Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Feral Cat Kills Critically Endangered Night Parrot

Night Parrot
In an alarming development, an endangered Night Parrot in a small, recently discovered population of the endangered species in western Queensland has been killed by a feral cat.  The finding of the remains of a cat-killed night parrot in an area of arid spinifex country south-west of Winton raises fresh questions about whether sufficient management practices are in place in the remote region to protect the Night Parrots.

1850s specimen of Night Parrot
According to Queensland Government sources, professional shooters have been hired by a private conservation company to patrol the area at night with spotlights, shooting feral cats on sight. The program is funded by a donation from mining company Fortescue Metals; the involvement of the company relates to the reported discovery of Night Parrots in a mineral exploration area in Western Australia in 2005.

Spinifex habitat north-east of Night Parrot site in western Queensland
However, government agencies have been kept in the dark about the whereabouts of the Night Parrots in Queensland. The sites where the birds occur are on a privately leased grazing property. No moves have been made to offer the property for sale to governments, with private enterprise being the preferred management option for John Young, who discovered the birds there. The Queensland Government is of course the primary agency charged with safeguarding endangered wildlife in the state, and has legal responsibilities to do so.

John Young
The cat-killed parrot was found at a site close to where John Young photographed a Night Parrot for the first time in May 2013 in what has been hailed as the most significant natural history discovery of recent times, revealed by The Australian newspaper. Since then, John and scientist Stephen Murphy have continued research in the region, finding the parrot at several other localities in the region. John will give more details about the feral cat issue, including how the parrot evidently came to be killed, at a talk in Melbourne on March 1. John is understood to have found the carcass, which he believed to be a female bird.

John Young's Night Parrot
Feral cats are considered to be a key factor in the demise of this once widespread species, which has been recorded on just handful of occasions over the past century. In 1892, it was reported that "numerous" parrots had been killed by cats in the vicinity of the Old Telegraph Station near Alice Springs. Some observers have noted increases in feral cat populations following a succession of good seasons in parts of inland Australia. The region south-west of Winton where the parrots occur has been drought-afflicted for several years.

Feral Cat
Not only the Night Parrot but the Bilby and other endangered desert mammals have somehow survived predation from feral cats and foxes to date in parts of south-west Queensland. The reasons for this are uncertain. 


  1. Something much more significant must be done to eliminate feral cats. This is sickening. And I love cats. Indoor cats.

  2. We need not only cat eradication but also an anti-cat culture in Australia if we're to protect our fast-disappearing wildlife. E.g., no TV shows about cats (please take note Channel 7), plain packaging with warnings about threats to wildlife on all cat food, cat traps to be readily available locally.

  3. Interesting that we should be culling the cats. I appreciate they kill native animals but their presence is now the status quo - the night parrots have survived their presence for 100+ years. Disaster usually follows human interventions that precipitate radical ecological change within short time frames. Granted, cats seem linked to many species' demise and this is probably the right course of action, but has consideration been given to the alternative - that somehow cats are now integral to the night parrot's survival? (To spare the inevitable question of how this could be so - what if cats are keeping another species at bay; for example, one that might be a proficient hunter of parrot eggs?) I would love to think that some parrots would be retrieved and entered into a breeding program. We did it with the Lord Howe Island stick insect. We even capitalised on the Wollemi Pine through sales. Other indigenous parrots are in the pet trade. Better, perhaps, to build a large population base, even if captive, than risk losing the species altogether? I believe freshwater fish enthusiasts have preserved some Queensland native species that are now extinct in the wild, in this way.