ACT News


Canberra Ornithologists Group helps Norfolk Island green parrot rehabilitation

To most Australians, Phillip Island brings to mind either exciting feats on the racetrack or penguins.

But 2300 km away from the Victorian Grand Prix Circuit, an urgent rescue mission to protect a different type of bird nears its climax on another Phillip Island.

The uninhabited outcrop will become home to an "insurance colony" of Norfolk Island green parrots thanks to the efforts of that island's locals, national park staff, volunteers and assistance from a group of Canberra bird enthusiasts.

Rehabilitation efforts on Norfolk Island to protect the endemic parakeet from feral predators brought it back from the brink of extinction, from a population of fewer than 100 birds in 2013 to between 350 and 400 this year.

To ensure the recovering population does not succumb to future threats from pests on Norfolk, an "ark" will transport 30 fledglings to begin an "insurance colony" on Phillip Island, six kilometres away.

The project will be the culmination of decades of conservation and rehabilitation, both of the species and the once-barren island that will host their young.


It also has had a strong ACT connection, as the members of the Canberra Ornithological Group connected with Norfolk Islanders and helped the conservation work.

A group of Canberrans conducted a survey of Norfolk in 1978, which the ornithological group's current president Neil Hermes said was a "precursor to us knowing there was a problem with the birds".

Mr Hermes has an even stronger connection to the program: as the conservator on Norfolk Island for three years in the early 1980s, he teamed up with the local Lions Club and took the first parrots into captivity when "it appeared they were basically doomed".

Back then, there were thought to be only 30 parrots left courtesy of the triple threat of feral cats, rats and crimson rosellas.

"[The introduced crimson rosellas] were able to out-compete the local birds at nest holes, and they did it very aggressively," Mr Hermes said.

"Not only do you have crimson rosellas killing them, you had rats coming up the trees and going into the hollows as well. When they did eventually produce chicks they had cats on the ground to get them, so they had the three whammys."

Since those dangerous days, 80 rodent-proof nesting sites were set up across the island and chicks were evenly spread among parents to improve survival rates.

Meanwhile, conservators travelled across the water to transform the barren, pig, goat and rabbit-infested Phillip Island into a green, feral-free sanctuary.

By the start of the year, the conditions were right to establish a new colony of green parrots on Phillip Island.

But Norfolk Island National Park manager Craig Doolan said the transfer of the 30 fledglings must happen within a three month window to guarantee the colony's success.

"These young birds are ready to leave the nest, they are almost old enough to look after themselves, but young enough that they won't fly back to Norfolk Island," he said.

"We've got a chance between April and June."

A Pozible crowdfunding page has been set up to raise the $77,000 required for the project.

At the time of publication, almost $40,000 had been raised.

The Canberra Ornithologists Group visited again in 2015 to conduct another survey of the birds, as well as an inspection of Phillip Island.

Mr Hermes said the initial recovery project more than 30 years ago left him with a feeling of both optimism and trepidation.

"I held a bird that I thought was among 30 left in the world," he said.

"If we'd left it another year or two, they would have been gone. It was a desperate time when the bird numbers were small and the Lions Club on Norfolk Island took the risk."

"To take it to the next step would be an acknowledgement of their efforts and expand on the community work already done by Norfolk Islanders."