Night parrot, spinifex parrot, porcupine parrot
The night parrot is one of Australia's most intriguing birds and possibly its least known.
22-25cm long, wingspan 44-46cm. Weight not known.
Night parrots are mottled yellow-green and dark brown over most of the body, with the lower belly and under tail coverts yellow. There is a pale yellow stripe through the middle of the wing. They closely resemble ground parrots (Pezoporus wallicus) of the southeastern and southwestern mainland and Tasmania. They differ by lacking the orange band on the forehead across the base of the upper mandible, a noticeably shorter tail, and shorter, straighter claws on the toes.
They occupy arid and semi arid zones of Australia.
They inhabit hummock grassland with spinifex grass.
Their diet is very poorly known but they probably feed on seeds of grasses and herbs.
Night parrots are terrestrial, nocturnal, elusive and very rarely seen. They run along the ground like quails.
Their reproductive habits are very poorly known. Unlike other Australian parrots, but like ground parrots, night parrots do not nest in a preformed hollow of some kind, but instead build a nest. They place a layer of small sticks in an expanded cavity at the end of a tunnel under a clump of Spinifex grass. A four egg clutch has been reported, and there is also an observation of two adult parrots accompanied by six young birds.
Night parrots are listed as Critically Endangered
They emit a low but carrying two-toned whistle.
Since its discovery by Europeans, the night parrot has been a subject of debate, particularly in regard to its abundance and natural history. The first known specimen of the night parrot was collected by John Mcdouall Stuart in October 1845, north of Coopers Creek, far northern South Australia, as part of an expedition led by Charles Sturt. The night parrot was not formally named until 1861, when John Gould described it as Geopsittacus occidentalis, based on a bird collected in 1854 near Mount Farmer, Western Australia.
Until the 1870s, sightings appeared to be very occasional. During the period between 1870 and 1890 20 specimens were collected. Of the 22 museum specimens collected last century, F. W. Andrews, working for the South Australian Museum, collected 16, all during this period.
Following this period of abundance, there was a marked decline in confirmed sightings.
There were a number of reported sightings in the 1960s and early 1970s, but none could be confirmed. In 1979, a team from the South Australian Museum saw several birds in the far north-west of South Australia. In 1990, a dead specimen was found at the side of a road in south west Queensland. Seven separate sightings were made in 1992 and 1993 near Cloncurry, a short distance north of where the specimen was found. An attempt to confirm these sighting the following year was not successful. Publicity campaigns in several states have elicited observations, but despite organised searches, no birds could be found.
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A close relationship to the ground parrot has long been recognised. Molecular work confirms that the two species should be placed within the same genus, Pezoporus. The closest relatives are the small parrots in the genus Neophema and the budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulatus. Despite similarities in colour, it does not appear close to the kakapo, Strigops habroptilus, of New Zealand.