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Conservationist Raising Funds To Help Survey Endangered Western Ground Parrot

Nicola McCaskill has a special interest in endangered birds, and wants to head out to The Fitzgerald River National Park to study the western ground parrot.

Amanda Lafond

Follow Amanda Lafond on Twitter at PepperNPals

Western Ground Parrot by Brent Barrett/Flickr
Brent Barrett/Flickr
The western ground parrot 

The western ground parrot (Pezoporus flaviventris) is an exceedingly rare bird. This Australian native is named for its tendency to stick close to the ground, even while in flight. Its status as an endangered species is the result of wildfires and non-native predators like feral cats. With only around 140 left in the wild, the conservation efforts of those like Nicola McCaskill have become extremely important.

McCaskill is an Australian conservationist with a special interest in endangered birds. "My education in Australian wildlife began with BARN, The Brisbane Animal Rescue Network,” she said. "I learned about native wild bird species and hand reared a clutch of magpies for release as well as another 'black-and-white' species, the currawong.” In addition, she also has volunteer experience with bird sanctuaries and is involved with different avicultural events.

It was though her avicultural associations that she first learned of the plight of this rare parrot. "Being a self-confessed bird nerd, I immerse myself in the social media world of aviculture,” she said. "The World Parrot Trust had a post about the western ground parrot and I immediately felt like I needed to learn more. I was intrigued by the fact that this native parrot lived on the ground, and then after further investigation [I] discovered the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot. I got in touch with them and asked if they needed any volunteers on the ground.”

McCaskill is currently running a FundRazr campaign to raise money for a trip to the Fitzgerald River National Park. There, she will be part of a team conducting a survey of the western ground parrots’ numbers. "I will be in a group where we are given a GPS Location in which we go to listen for the call of the parrot,” McCaskill said. "The parrot has a very distinctive call which has been described as to sound similar to a whistling kettle. The likelihood of seeing a bird is incredibly small as they fly no higher than a meter off the ground and camouflage themselves in dense shrub. I will be erecting automated recording devices, which will record the calls in other areas so we can cover as much ground as possible.”

However, the birds’ call is not the only thing McCaskill is hoping to find. "I will also be looking for any feeding signs, tracks, droppings and perhaps miraculously locating a nest. A nest has not been found for over 20 years,” she said.

McCaskill’s efforts provide crucial info to conservationists. "Conducting these surveys allows us to determine numbers in the wild,” she explained. "Determining the numbers in the wild allows the Department of Parks Western Australia's endangered species team to be able to put together informed conservation projects in the future. There is believed to be only 140 birds in the wild isolated in the Cape Arid National Park. There could be some still remaining in the Fitzgerald National Park, but this has not been proven.”

Conservationists need all the information they can get on the western ground parrot. Their low numbers mean that there are very few people who have experience with them. "There are only seven birds of this species in captivity,” McCaskill said. "They are located at the Perth Zoo in a conservation breeding program which is only facilitated by zoologists. These birds have only been there for a few months, so the number of people in the world with any direct contact with the bird you could count on one hand.”

McCaskill is optimistic that the western ground parrot could start to make a recovery with the help of conservationists like herself. ”Being in an isolated area of the country without a human population I hope that his bird can recover in numbers and thrive,” she said. "I wish the breeding program at the Perth Zoo is very successful and their release to the areas best determined by the surveys help to boost number bask up above the critically endangered category.”

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Posted: September 22, 2014, 9:30 a.m. PDT

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