A glimpse of the night parrot in the Great Sandy Desert

This century, fewer than 30 people have seen the night parrot alive. The bird is notoriously difficult to spot, but a group of Martu rangers in northern Western Australia have just been able to catch another glimpse – and snap a photograph.

“We got lucky!” says ranger Neil Lane. “He flew right past me – I could almost touch him!”

Last year, rangers from Indigenous organisation Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) confirmed the presence of night parrots on Martu country, in the Great Sandy Desert. Since the confirmation, the rangers have been surveying for night parrot roosting sites, listening for calls at dawn and dusk, and taking audio recordings.

A night parrot flying away from the camera into a green bush
The night parrot photo – the fourth ever taken of the parrot in flight. Credit: Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa

The rangers were on one of these survey trips when a night parrot flew out of some nearby spinifex grass. On its second flight, 17-year-old ranger Kimeal Simpson (who was on her first ranger trip) was able to catch a picture of the fast-moving bird. It’s only the fourth photo ever taken of a night parrot in flight.

The search is the result of a collaboration between Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa, researchers at the University of Queensland, and ecology consultancy AdaptiveNRM, which assisted with the audio recordings.

Read more: Orange-bellied parrots fly free

“With this project we have a trifecta: the hard-work and commitment of a dedicated Indigenous ranger team, the knowledge of country of desert-born Martu elders, and partnerships with the leading scientific experts in the field,” says Daniel Johanson, Healthy Country Officer at KJ.

“It is this combination that has made the Martu night parrot project a success.”

Map of western australia, with martu lands shaded in the centre, around the tropic of capricorn and with the canning stock route passing through
Location of Martu lands, where the parrot was seen.

The night parrot joins a number of threatened species that have been found on Martu country – including the greater bilby, the great desert skink, the black-flanked rock wallaby and the Pilbara leaf-nosed bat.

“All the future generations should be working to look after country, burning the right way, looking after rock wallabies and digging out waterholes,” says Mukki Taylor, senior cultural advisor at KJ.

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