Newsupdate no. 40 – January 2010
New phase of the Western Ground Parrot Recovery Project well under way….. The Project was fortunate in being able to bring Brent Barrett back for two months late last year for the commencement of the captive management program for Western Ground Parrots as he had much valuable past experience with captive endangered parrots to draw on. From Brent… I could scarcely express my excitement when I was approaching the Ground Parrot site in October 2009. It had been over five years since I had been there and there had been many changes both in my life and in the life of the Western Ground Parrot. I recalled mapping the extent of this population. And now we were to start a new phase of ground parrot conservation, the first in the entire country and what an undertaking it would be. The joy I felt for being brought back to assist was tainted by the immensity of the proposed work. Having been involved with many captive management programs in the past, I knew that most current programs have been developed following a number of mistakes and some lucky success. Animal husbandry of the WGP was going to be no different. The unique ground dwelling nature of WGPs required a critical shift in our thinking with regards to captive parrots. No past experience prepared us for the very high incidence of resting during the day, the cessation of calling when calls went unanswered, and the hardwired nature of flush response when the aviary was approached by people. The strategy was to respond to the birds according to their behavioural cues, if they searched for food, we would hide it, if they climbed wire we would cover it. Flying into the netting was countered by building a soft lining in the aviary. Various food was tested, removed, modified and weighed. The settling of birds into the captive environment took 4 -10 days depending on how old the bird was. The oldest bird was at least 1-2 years old and much more difficult to train onto supplementary food sources. It took a number of weeks to get this bird (named Zephyr) to eat native vegetation within the
aviary. One great success was the video monitoring of the seed tray and the ground around the feed tray. It was an idea I developed from an automatic scale system we used with Kakapo. While that system needed transmitters and data-loggers we used the video camera to record the weight displayed on the scales. At first I didn’t realise how powerful this tool would become. We were able to record the time and duration of every feeding event and also the exact volume of food eaten every time. Furthermore we could get weights of the bird coming onto and off the scales and perform a visual check of condition. We now have the most complete and fine-scale records of daily food intake of captive western ground parrots. This also represents a level of detail seldom achieved in any captive parrot enclosure. Once the new aviaries are completed the birds will have more room to fly each day and the keeper will have the ability to add and remove living plants and expose birds to each other to observe how they interact within the same aviary. Before any birds can be put together they have to complete the 45 day quarantine period. I am now back in New Zealand working with the mountain parrot (Kea) and remain involved with the WGP project through E-mail and occasional phone conferences. I wish the entire team luck with the ensuing months and extend my thanks and congratulations to the Friends of WGP, Exetel and DEC for a wonderful and successful collaboration. Brent Barrett
Brent holds a Western Ground Parrot for the first time. The parrot is Zephyr. Photo: Wendy Binks
Picture from video footage of Joy on the feeding/weighing station
Western Ground Parrot Captive Management Project By Abby Berryman, DEC WGP Recovery Project Leader The past few months have seen the Western Ground Parrot Recovery Project come ahead in leaps and bounds. Not only has an experimental cat control project commenced (story next issue), but we also now have three birds in captivity. Western Ground Parrots (WGPs) have not been kept in captivity before, so this is a first step towards a full-scale captive breeding program. The aim of this pilot project is to refine the husbandry techniques so that we can be confident that we can keep captive birds happy and healthy before we launch into a captive breeding program. All up, 6 weeks were spent in the field attempting to capture WGPs. At times, capture efforts were hampered by wind or rain. Up to 10 staff and volunteers at a time assisted. A total of eight WGPs were captured, although four of these were released again. The birds that were released were all adults. Juvenile birds were preferred because they are more likely to settle into captivity successfully. The other four birds (3 juveniles and a sub-adult) were taken into captivity. The captive birds are being monitored closely, particularly in the early stages of settling in. Human disturbance to the aviaries is kept to a minimum and normally limited to feeding the birds via the access hatch every second day. This has greatly aided the success of the settling-in process â€“ less disturbance means less stress. The first bird taken into captivity, a sub-adult male named Zephyr, was captured on 6
November. Zephyr gradually settled in to captivity, slowly becoming accustomed to taking seed from the food tray and accepting the Hconfines of the aviary. Zephyr continues to do well, although in recent weeks he has been putting on weight as the combined effects of laziness and freely available food begin to show. He is now on a diet â€“ his budgie seed has been cut back but he is provided with plenty of native food plants to make him work a bit harder to get his food. A juvenile male, named Toot, was captured on 15 November. We were quite concerned about him at capture because he had some blood in his mouth. Later inspection revealed that this blood had come from a small cut on his tongue. Toot settled in to aviary life much faster than Zephyr did. He appeared active and was readily eating the budgie seed. Sadly, on the morning of 19 November, Toot was discovered dead. An autopsy was conducted and identified bacterial pneumonia as the cause of death. This was most likely a result of blood from the cut on his tongue being inhaled at the time of capture. Captures were temporarily halted while the cause of death was identified, and protocols to prevent a similar situation were developed in consultation with veterinarians. This includes the administration of antibiotics and providing the bird with warmth and oxygen. Joy, a juvenile male, was captured on the evening of 2 December. He was released into the aviaries the next morning after minimal handling to obtain
samples for health testing. He settled into captivity much faster than Zephyr did, supporting the decision to target juvenile birds in preference to adults because they adjust better to captivity. Joy took readily to the commercial budgie seed mix and in the past few weeks has been eating an increasing amount of native vegetation. He has also become more active in the aviary and is sometimes seen running around and doing small flits into the air. Dawn, a juvenile female, was captured on the morning of 4 December and transported to the aviaries immediately. Half way through the journey she began to look unwell, with fluffed-up feathers, hunched posture and drooped wings. She was immediately given oral electrolytes to combat dehydration and she was kept warm. On arrival at the captive facility she was given antibiotics, more fluids, food and placed into a brooder (a heated chamber) - a protocol that was refined based on veterinary advice following the results of Toot’s autopsy. The exact cause of Dawn’s decline is unclear but she was captured at a very low weight (67g). In
the first 24 hours she put on 7g indicating that she was probably very dehydrated on capture. Dawn rapidly responded to treatment and after a three day course of antibiotics she was released into the aviary. Dawn has been feeding well on both the commercial budgie mix and native plants. She is the most active of the three birds, and is often seen playing, running around on the open ground and jumping into the air. The settling-in process will continue over the next few months with partitioning to be removed from within each of Joy and Dawn’s aviaries providing them with more space. More vegetation will also be added as they adjust to captive conditions. Finally, a huge thank you to all the people who have helped to make this happen - Exetel for their generosity in providing funds, Perth Zoo for providing support and advice, and David Edmonds for providing veterinary advice. Thanks also to all the volunteers – their assistance was invaluable; and thanks to the staff who put so much time, effort and energy into capturing the birds and settling them successfully into captivity.
Left. Zephyr – sub-adult male (Photo Brent Barrett) Right. Dawn, juvenile female (Photo Steph Hill)
Volunteer opportunities Once again this year we are searching for volunteers to assist us with monitoring our WGP populations. This involves listening for WGP calls so good hearing is essential. No experience is necessary as we will train you to detect WGP calls. The survey work involves bush camping and all food and most camping gear is provided. Transport from Albany is supplied and we provide some assistance with travel expenses to Albany. Dates of the survey trips are: 2 – 11 March Fitzgerald River NP 22 – 29 March Fitzgerald River NP 7- 16 April Fitzgerald River NP 27 April – 7 May Cape Arid NP 24 May – 4 June Cape Arid NP If you would like to volunteer for one of these trips, or if you would like more information on the WGP project please contact: Jeff Pinder –ph: (08) 9842 4519 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends of the Western Ground Parrot Inc. news
We are happy to announce that this month our association became an incorporated body. Can you help? We are in need of one more committee member. Most committee interaction is conducted by email. Committee meetings are about six months apart. Please contact Anne, Deon or Brenda (see below) if you would like to get involved in the Friends’ decision-making process by joining our committee. More mystery payments On 14 October the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot account was credited with a $10 deposit. The payment was made at the Albany branch. Could the member who paid this deposit please contact us, so we can find out whose membership fee it is? We received another unidentified deposit of $22 at the Albany branch on 24 December (no, it wasn't Santa).
Funding disappointment Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful with our nomination for sponsorship in the Australian Zookeepers’ Association's annual fund-raising competition to help endangered species. We lost out to New Zealand's Kea.
Interesting sighting near Leeman One of our members, Ron Snook, who was a volunteer when the surveys for northern WGPs were under way made an interesting observation about 4 km north of Leeman early one morning this month. Although he was driving, he saw the bird in question from only about 2 metres. Its colour, behaviour and the location in long unburnt heathland, led him to think that it could have been a ground parrot. It is very likely that a few ground parrots persist in the north. Do report any possible sightings from there or elsewhere.
Summer T-shirt Now is a good time to make sure you have a Western Ground Parrot T-shirt. We have most sizes including children from size 6. Please contact Val Hack to find the one for you. Phone: Mob. 0409443331 Email: email@example.com Val also has WGP cards and postcards for sale.
Meeting – preliminary notice It is anticipated that a general meeting will be held in late April or early May. Details will be in the next issue. Contacts: Brenda Newbey (Chair). Phone (08) 9337 5673 Anne Bondin (Vice Chair). Phone (08) 9844 1793 Deon Utber (Secretary) Phone (08) 9844 8863 Address: PO Box 5613, Albany, WA 6332 Website:
Archive: Previous issues of our newsletter are available online at Editor: Brenda Newbey