November 19, 2017

Students tackle lorikeet menace

A group of students from Hobart College certainly demonstrated they were out to make a difference at a World Environment Day event earlier this month.

Their “A Fair Go for Swifties” presentation attracted a big crowd at the Hobart Sustainability Learning Centre, during which the students laid out plans for not only monitoring populations of the critically-endangered swift parrot but an invasive bird species, the rainbow lorikeet

More than 80 students at the college have this year volunteered for the Student Environment Team (SET) and, after first tackling such green initiatives as Clean Up Australia Day, the teenagers have settled on their most ambitious project to date.

With the parrot project they are fortunate to be working with a conservation biologist from the Australian National University, Dr Dejan Stojanovic, who is leading the campaign to save the swift parrot and devising ways to keep numbers of the introduced rainbow lorikeet under control.

Dr Stojanovic is training the SET team members to be effective citizen scientists, working towards a paper on the collaborative results gained from their research. Hobart College has been awarded two grants to help with the Fair Go for Swifties Unwanted Rainbow Lorikeets Project. The largest, from Natural Resource Management South, provides $7000 to assist with building more than 50 rainbow lorikeet nesting boxes and developing data bases and technology equipment to make accurate field observations.

The college’s Information technology students gave presentations during World Environment Day on how members of the public could contribute to the data bases and also showed examples of the specially-designed nesting boxes they have designed to aid parrot nesting success.

Nest boxes have also been designed to trap rainbow lorikeets – which compete with swift parrots for nesting cavities – so they can be destroyed humanely.

Dr Stojanovic said during the event the rainbow lorikeet, which is native to south-eastern and eastern Australia, could also pose a serious problem to farmers and fruit growers if left unchecked.

The researcher said the lorikeets had already caused serious problems in Western Australia, where they had also been introduced.

Dr Stojanovic said that he is concerned that the same scenario might play out in Tasmania.

“We’re quite worried that in Tasmania they might have a quite serious impact on the grapes and the fruit growing industries that occur around the areas where they now live,” he said.

The rainbow lorikeet – a beautiful parrot which as its names suggests incorporates the colours of the rainbow in its plumage – is mainly confined to the Kingston area at present but it is slowly extending its range. There is another isolated population in the north-west of the state.

Another concern is that the rainbow lorikeet might interbreed with a closely-related parrot which occurs naturally in Tasmania, the musk lorikeet. Already hybrid birds are being seen in the greater Hobart area.

Dr Stojanovic said that while the lorikeet population is small, the best strategy is eradication rather than containment

“At this stage, since it’s early in the invasion process, eradication is a real possibility,” he said.

Dr Stojanovic said that while the lorikeet population was small, the best strategy was  eradication rather than containment.

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