This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ’E’s expired and gone to meet ’is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ’e rests in peace!
The life and times of the swift parrot reads like a Monty Python script, the sort of thing that featured in the off-beat comedy team’s dead parrot sketch. The researchers and conservationists battling to save the parrot do not see the funny side, however, especially as the bird in 2016 was listed as critically endangered.
It’s only a little bird – about 24 centimetres in length including its tapered long tail – but it seems to arouse passion and anger wherever it flies, to say nothing of a little black humour. It is the butt of jokes beyond those featured in the Monty Python routine, usually ironic ones when the little parrot swift of wing stops a forest being logged, or its presence real or imaged demands that a building approval be reviewed in case the angle of its windows creates a parrot death-trap.
It appears Tasmanians either love or loathe the parrot.
The species, which only breeds in Tasmania, has never been out of the headlines since Labor state MP David Llewellyn said some years back the parrot was heading inexorably towards extinction. Mr Llewellyn was environment minister at the time and said he was merely repeating advice he had been given my government scientists that the parrot was dropping so low in numbers it could not be saved as a breeding species.
Whether or not Mr Llewellyn’s assessment eventually proves correct it served the purpose of spotlighting the parrot plight, and fuelling a new push by environmentalists to ensure its survival.
That push has seen more investment, and man hours, devoted to the parrot in recent years. Ground-breaking research has seen nesting boxes made specifically for the parrots for the first time. Another parrot development in 2016 created the ultimate in irony – tree specialists talking chainsaws to eucalypts to create parrot nesting cavities.
It is the widespread felling of the parrot’s favoured blue gums following European settlement of Tasmania 200 years ago and the resultant lack of nesting hollows that has seen the population fall to alarming levels. In recent years it has also been discovered that in their breeding grounds the parrots are also falling prey to introduced sugar gliders, which eat parrot eggs and young in nesting cavities.
The swift parrot once flew in the hundreds of thousands across Tasmania in the summer months before migrating to wintering grounds on the mainland. Its population is now believed to be a mere 1000 pairs.
The swift is a small parrot, 25cm in length, and is commonly seen in the Hobart area when it first arrives from the mainland. It feeds on exotic flowering plants in suburban gardens before going to blue gum breeding grounds on the east coast. The best place to find it is on Bruny Island but it only visits the island, as with other breeding sites, in years when the blue gums are in flower there. Blue gum flowering is sporadic and swift parrots will roam eastern and south-eastern Tasmania in spring looking for flowering trees.
It is an exceedingly beautiful bird, iridescent green on the back, with crimson in the wings. As its name suggests, it is swift in flight, its streamlined, slender body sweeping low over the treetops. It should not be confused with the extremely common musk lorikeet, which has a dumpier shape and a red face mask. The swift parrot merely has a splash of red on its forehead and chin, along with crimson in the wings.
That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ’alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Habitat and distribution: Across eastern Tasmania in the spring and summer. Diet: Swift parrots are commonly observed in the Hobart area feeding on flowers of introduced eucalypts, particularly pink flowering gum. When they are feeding in small groups, they chatter quietly amongst themselves. Large feeding flocks also occur and these are noisy affairs with birds squabbling and chasing each other in and out of the trees. Breeding: predominantly located near the coast in dry forests on upper slopes and ridge tops. They make their nests inside a hollow tree branch or trunk in very old or dead trees, which can take hundreds of years to form. Such hollows are very important homes for many birds, and animals like possums and bats. In the breeding season, males and females form pairs. It is not unusual to find more than one pair nesting close to each other. Nest sites may be re-used but not necessarily in successive years. The use of a particular nest site depends on the availability of food in that area. Song: rapid “kik-kik-kik”. Size: 25cm.