In the tropical savannahs of northern Queensland, the grasslands are home to a rare and brightly coloured jewel of a bird: Psephotellus chrysopterygius, better known as the Golden-shouldered Parrot.
Recognisable from their dazzling feathers (males are turquoise and orange with a black crown and bright yellow shoulders, while females are green and turquoise), this bird is endemic to the region—meaning it is found nowhere else in the world—and is an important totem for First Nations Peoples.
In the 1980s, a population of Golden-shouldered Parrots was discovered in the area south-west and east of Musgrave in the headwaters of the Morehead River. The Morehead River population is believed to occupy an area of 1380km²—however, by the late 1990s the size of this habitat was already shrinking. By 2009, the Morehead River population was estimated to be only 1,500 mature individuals, and more recent evidence (circa. 2016) suggests this number has declined further.
In the 1990s, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers discovered a second population in Staaten River National Park and the adjacent Bulimba station, about 100 kilometres west of Chillagoe. The Staaten population is constrained to an area of approximately 300km² and is estimated to contain approximately 1,000 mature individuals. While regular Golden-shouldered Parrot sightings are made from areas outside of their range, they remain unconfirmed, and the most optimistic total population estimate is 2,500 mature individuals.
Since 2019, efforts to save this species have been lead by a dedicated Golden shoulder parrot recovery team. Gulf Savannah NRM has partnered with Traditional Custodians, Cape York NRM, Bush Heritage, Artemis Nature Fund and ecologists Steve Murphy and Gaye Crowley to try and protect Golden-shouldered Parrot habitat in the Cape, and the Staaten and Mitchell catchments of the Gulf Savannah.
This work has included efforts to increase best practice habitat management, including an Indigenous fire forum on traditional burning at Talaroo Station (2019) and another fire forum in Mt Surprise to help landholders reduce woody thickening (2020). Gulf Savannah NRM has also contributed to a CSIRO pilot study, to determine the feasibility of using remote sensing technologies to identify and locate potential nesting sites.
This project is supported by Gulf Savannah NRM, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
Read the full article in the Gulf Croaker: