By Joseph M. Forshaw
In the wild, Princess parrots are not as rare as they are generally considered to be.
The article “The Enchanting Princess Parrot” (BIRD TALK magazine September 2008) offered up-close look at the princess parrot in the wild and in the aviary. Now find out which regions this beautiful parrot can be found in.
Just How Rare?
Because of a paucity of records, Princess parrots generally are considered to be rare, but recent reports suggest that at certain times they may be locally common in regional strongholds. One such stronghold is in the Great Sandy Desert, in the northeast of Western Australia, where, in July 1992, some 100 birds were found to be dispersed over an area of at least 8 square kilometers. There is no evidence of any reduction in range in the vast deserts of central and western Australia, and we have too little information to make an informed assessment of the status of this species.
In dry sand-dune country, Princess parrots have been encountered in lightly-wooded shrublands, often dominated by casuarinas or acacias with scattered eucalypts on ridges and a groundcover of Triodia or Plectrachne grasses. For nesting, they seem to be dependent on larger eucalypts, mainly river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) or coolibahs (E. microtheca) bordering seasonal watercourses.
Most sightings have been of single birds, pairs or small parties, but larger flocks have been encountered along the Canning Stock Route, passing through a presumed stronghold of the species in the northeast of Western Australia. Reports on the habits come primarily from members of exploration expeditions to inland Australia in the late 1800s, principally from George Keartland, who was a member of the Calvert Exploring Expedition in northwestern Australia, and from persons who have travelled along the Canning Stock Route, mostly during the 1990s purposefully to see these parrots. There are differences in the reports, but I suspect that these merely reflect differing conditions prevailing at the time.
Keartland commented that the parrots have a habit of lying along a stout limb, like a lizard, instead of perching normally on a twig, effectively obscuring them from view. He quoted a report of their being “ ... very tame, feeding about the grass near the camp, and seem in no way afraid of people, cattle or horses.” More recently, observers meeting with these parrots along the Canning Stock Route have found them to be wary, and it was possible to approach only to within about six meters of resting birds.
Described as being obscure and demure while resting quietly in a tree, Princess parrots become very obvious and noisy in flight or when about to take flight. At one location on the Canning Stock Route, birds were first heard about 90 minutes after sunrise. During the day, feeding was interspersed with periods of resting, when the parrots sat quietly amidst the branches of densely-foliaged eucalypts for up to 90 minutes. Departure from the area occurred a little more than an hour before sunset, when it was suspected that they returned to a communal roost for the night.
Nomads In The Arid Inland
Princess parrots have been reported from widely scattered localities in the arid interior of central and western Australia, but limits of their range have not been determined. During the 1990s, birds were recorded consistently along the Canning Stock Route, through northeastern Western Australia, and this suggests that they may be resident in that region. The presence of immatures indicates that breeding occurs there.
Only continued monitoring will determine whether this region is the permanent range of a core breeding population, or whether it too is vacated when prolonged adverse conditions impact on food supplies. Elsewhere, these parrots appear to be highly nomadic, and their movements seem to be governed by the availability of food, especially flowering acacias and access to surface water.
At irregular intervals, often more than 20 years apart, they come to larger tree-lined watercourses, remain to breed, and then with their young disappear as abruptly as they arrived. In November 1894, numbers came to breed at several localities in the vicinity of Alice Springs, central Australia, where they were unknown to residents who had been in the district for 30 years.
It was not until 1962 that Princess parrots returned to again nest in eucalypts along the Todd River at Alice Springs. In January 1963, at Hermannsburg Mission (also in central Australia), they nested in river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in such large numbers that local Aboriginals were able to collect nestlings for food, but the birds were not known to any Aboriginals less than 35 years of age, and there have been no subsequent records from that district. In late March 1964, at Wanjarri Station near the southwestern extremity of the range in Western Australia, a lone immature Princess parrot was seen coming to drink at a spraying hose set in a garden near the shearing shed and, again there have been no subsequent records from the district.