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Rediscovery in Australia, and Questions

Night ParrotAmong the world's rarest birds there is no species that holds quite the air of mystery as the Night Parrot of Australia. Incredibly rare and otherworldly elusive, the species is known from a few scattered historical accounts and a bare handful of salvaged roadkilled specimens since 1979. It is without doubt one of the most mysterious birds in the world, and the acquisition of photos of the species has been something of a Holy Grail for ornithologists in Australia and beyond.

Enter controversial naturalist John Young who, just last week, announced in a highly anticipated media event in Queensland that he had discovered and recorded a Night Parrot five years ago (remarkable in and of itself) and used that recording helped him track down a bird which he was able to photograph earlier this year. Those photos and a video were reportedly shared with those in attendance. One of the photos can be seen in a heavily wordmarked version on the website of The Australian News.

Somewhat oddly, however, Young has decided not to work with governmental agencies to safeguard the bird and the site where he found it in southwest Queensland, intending instead to raise $2 million (AUS) so that the area can be maintained privately. He has stated that he believes the government would mismanage the site, and that this possibly remnant population would be set upon by hordes of birders. He has also not released his recording of the call, the only one known to be in existence.

Young is not without his share of controversy, particularly with regard to "rediscoveries" of seemingly extinct species. His claims of finding the Paradise Parrot, a species believed to be extinct, in 1980 did not pan out when followed up on by others, and his photographs of a species reportedly new to science, the blue-browed fig-parrot, published in the newspaper The Australian in 2007, were challenged by many.

It's hard to argue that John Young is in the wrong this time in the face of photos and apparent video, though, he certainly has put in the work in the bush and has the backing of several prominent Night Parrot experts in Australia. How this all shakes out remains to be seen, but even so it certainly appears to be one of the most fascinating bird stories in recent memory

More information on John Young's discovery can be found at the following sites:

Rare night parrot sighting – ABC News

Rare bird ruffling feathers – The Australian News

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

  • Can’t seem to view the photos on the Australian news site without paying to register, unfortunately. Still, this is cool if it pans out – I remember discovering Night Parrots in my Australian field guide when I was there a few years ago and being fascinated by them.

  • Ah, it’s really touchy. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    You may have some luck googling: “night parrot tweets in the night” as that’s the title of the article.

  • Joshua Stevenson
  • Ben Coulter

    The image at that link is a Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), not a Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis). I found one of Young’s pics at this link:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/tweets-in-the-night-a-flash-of-green-is-this-our-most-elusive-bird/story-e6frg8y6-1226671683508

  • Gail Mackiernan

    The photo shown with this article is of a Kakapo, the endemic flightless parrot of New Zealand, also critically endangered.

  • Jenny Spry

    There is a good article on the Australian Geographic site. If the link doesn’t work google AG and do a search for “Night Parrot” – there are a couple of links to different stories on the discovery.
    http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/mysterious-night-parrot-caught-on-film.htm
    I am told that Australian Geographic is going to do a full article in their next edition.

  • Jenny Spry

    Because the Night Parrot photos are watermarked and copyright protected I would guess that an editor somewhere checked a stock photo list and chose the wrong image. The picture got a mention on the Birding-Aus website site but I can’t remember which media outlet used it. I suggest that people wanting to follow the story should keep checking the Australian Geographic website. It is free and it will be more accurate than most of the press outlets.

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