Protecting the breeding population of Swift Parrots

SUMMARY

This project is working on solutions to improve breeding success for Swift Parrots by focusing on how to protect Swift Parrots from sugar gliders, as well as working towards protecting and improving key habitat areas..

 

BACKGROUND

The critically endangered Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) migrates annually from mainland Australia to breed in Tasmania. Arriving around springtime, they seek out our flowering blue gums, form mating pairs and spend their summer breeding and raising chicks. While they often reuse the same nesting sites, they don’t always turn up at the same site over successive years and this unpredictability can pose challenges when it comes to conservation efforts.

Their numbers are in decline and they are at risk from a number of factors, including habitat loss, competition for nesting sites and predation of chicks and eggs by sugar gliders. Native to mainland Australia but introduced to Tasmania in the 1800s sugar glider diets include eggs, insects, lizards and small birds and their impact on Swift Parrot populations in Tasmania has been devastating. It’s estimated that nearly 85% of the Swift Parrot population is at risk each season of being killed by sugar gliders. Sugar gliders eat swift parrot eggs, chicks and even adult birds, drastically decreasing the reproductive success of the species. Research has shown that sugar gliders can impact up to 79% of nests, and 65% of breeding females in Tasmania can fall victim to sugar gliders each year. Sugar gliders are the only predators able to access breeding Swift Parrot nests due to very specific nest dimensions.

PARTNERS

DPIPWE, Australian National University (ANU), the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), Enviro Arb and Conservation Landholders Tasmania

FUNDING

The Australian Government’s National Landcare Program

 

PROJECT DURATION

2020-2023

 

APPROACH
  • An initial pilot project to investigate whether localised sugar glider control has an effect on egg predation. The outcomes of this study will inform the best strategies for a longer-term control project.
  • Installation of nest boxes at  breeding sites where nesting sites are limited.
  • Protecting high-value functional breeding habitat in important Swift Parrot breeding areas on private property through conservation covenants, and their associated natural values management plans.

Swift Parrot nesting locations are highly variable across the landscape, and from year to year, which in turn influences the impact that project activities will have each year – and the overall likelihood of positive conservation outcomes for Swift Parrots in the short, medium and long term. This variability will be addressed through an adaptive management approach; regularly evaluating outcomes and modifying delivery mechanisms to suit. A pre-emptive approach (developed by researchers from the ANU’s Difficult Bird Research Group (DBRG)) to predict the breeding locations of swift parrots each year involves annual eucalyptus flower bud surveys in the lead-up to the breeding season, which will in turn inform management actions for that breeding season.

ACHIEVEMENTS TO DATE

  • Two conservation covenants covering 122 ha of Swift Parrot habitat approved
  • Pilot study completed to assess whether localised Sugar Glider control would reduce nest predation of Swift Parrots. The results prompted further work to improve trapping effectiveness and cost-efficiency.
  • Supported a free public tour at Inala Private Reserve area on Bruny Island (2020), giving attendees a chance to see Swift Parrots in the wild, learn about their habitat needs and find out more about how the community could help in conservation efforts.

LINKS AND MEDIA

ABC Rural interview (start at 32′): https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/radio/local_hobart/audio/202106/ack-2021-06-28.mp3

RESOURCES