A SIMPLE feather found in the lining of a bird’s nest near Lake Eyre has stunned the nation’s scientists and rewritten a part of our state’s history.
The feather led to the discovery of a night parrot population — a bird presumed extinct with no recorded sighting in South Australia for more than a century.
It is one of Australia’s most mysterious birds. Australian Wildlife Conservancy ecologists made the discovery in July after using a helicopter to fly over 600km of land in search of its prospective habitat.
Conservancy chief Atticus Fleming said: “While it’s been rediscovered after effectively having gone missing for 100 years, its probably cryptic as much as it is endangered.”
The first sign of the night parrot occurred during an annual ecological audit of the Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary in 2016, when a camera trap picked up a shape replicating the bird.
Ecologist John Young, who rediscovered the Night Parrot in Queensland a few years earlier, knew the shape was not clear enough to be certain, and looked at historical records.
In 1883, night parrots had been recorded in similar samphire — plants associated with water — habitat near Lake Eyre.
They had been rediscovered in spinifex habitat across Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Mr Young and fellow ecologist Keith Bellchambers in July flew over more than 600km of Kalamurina in a helicopter, where an area which had a Wedge-tailed Eagle’s nest was adjacent to a prospective samphire habitat.
The team “honed in” on the nest, applying knowledge that Zebra Finches — Australia’s most common grassfinch — likes to nest under an eagle’s nest, and lines its nest with feathers.
And after examining several finch nests, Mr Young found a small “unmistakeable” Night Parrot feather lining the base of a recently-built nest.
Mr Young said he began to “shake uncontrollably with numbing excitement”.
“It seemed feasible that it was collected within a few hundred metres in the past few weeks,” Mr Young said.
“(It was) an incredibly emotional time for both of us.”
The Night Parrot is recognised as endangered in South Australia and is listed as one of 20 threatened birds that the Federal Government hopes to improve the trajectory of by 2020, under its Australia’s Threatened Species Strategy.
Mr Fleming said the next step in protecting the Lake Eyre Night Parrots would be to map their distribution and assess the population size, using sound recorders and additional camera traps, which will require them to fundraise $75,000 for helicopter transport and equipment.