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Researchers Discover Sugar Gliders Preying On Swift Parrots

More habitat loss leads to more swift parrot deaths at the hands of sugar gliders, a new study shows.

Jessica Pineda

Swift parrots are an endangered species. Learn more about the species in this for 2007 video from the Swift Parrot Recovery Team.

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) might be cute and beloved as pets, but in Tasmania, they are a big threat to endangered swift parrots. In the study, "Discovery of a novel predator reveals extreme but highly variable mortality for an endangered migratory bird,” researchers found a direct link between habitat destruction and an increase of sugar gliders preying on swift parrot eggs and the mothers inside.

While some studies showed that sugar gliders preyed on birds, many thought the marsupials primarily ate nectar, flowers and insects. When researchers studying the swift parrots would discover destroyed nests and the remains of the female, they weren’t sure what the causes were. They placed cameras inside the nests and were astonished to see the sugar gliders. This has been the first study to document the small marsupials as the primary cause of bird deaths.
Swift Parrot by Dejan Stojanovic/Courtesy Loro Parque
Swift Parrot by Dejan Stojanovic/Courtesy Loro Parque
Swift parrots have the longest migrations of any parrot in the world.

The chief investigator was Dejan Stojanovic, an Australian National University postdoctoral fellow and conservation biologist. He found that when sugar gliders prey on the swift parrot nests in areas where there was high forest loss, 83 percent of the time the animals ate the eggs and mother.  According to the Australian National University, Stojanovic’s research "found that in locations where forest loss was severe, predation on Swift Parrots and their nests could be as high as 100 percent.”

There’s reason to be hopeful, however. According to the Australian National University, the "survival of parrots and their nests improved as cover of old growth forest increased.” Also, on islands where there were no sugar gliders, the swift parrots were far more successful with their nests.

Sugar glider
While some studies showed sugar gliders would prey on birds, for the most part, researchers believed they ate nectar, flowers and insects.

According to BirdLife, the swift parrot population is around 2,000 mature individuals. These parrots have one of the longest migrations of any parrot in the world, traveling up to 3,100 miles from Australia to Tasmania where they breed and raise chicks. The parrots rely on flowering Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), and other plants to feed their chicks.

Efforts have been underway to help save these parrots, and with the new data about sugar gliders and forest loss, researchers can work on implementing better conservation plans for the swift parrots.

Previous: New Study Reveals How Small Birds Migrate

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Posted: May 8, 2014, 1:15 p.m. PDT

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