The Orange-bellied Parrot breeds only in Tasmania, with most of the population migrating to Victoria and South Australia in the winter.
The Orange-bellied Parrot is just bigger than a Budgerigar, with males and females varying slightly in appearance. The male is a bright grass-green on the head, back and most of the wings, fading to a yellowish-green on throat and breast, to bright yellow to the vent and under the tail. The belly has a bright orange patch, and there is a deep blue band between the eyes, bordered above by a faint blue line. The male also has bright blue on the bend of the wings. The female is duller, with less blue and has a smaller orange belly patch. Both male and females have a greyish-black bill, a dark-brown eye and greyish-brown legs.
Orange-bellied Parrots are seen almost exclusively in coastal and sub-coastal areas, preferring peninsulas and islands. Saltmarshes, littoral (shore) heathlands and low scrublands are preferred habitats as well as grassy areas, which can include golf courses. They breed in forests on the west coast of Tasmania dominated by Smithton Peppermints, Eucalyptus nitida, but tend to avoid extensive tracts of temperate rainforest.
Orange-bellied Parrots breed in Tasmania then migrate to the southern coast of mainland Australia, as far west as Yorke Penisula in South Australia, and east in Victoria to Westernport Bay. Occasionally the Orange-bellied Parrot is seen out of this range, including a sighting in Sydney in 2004.
Adult Orange-bellied Parrots return to Tasmania in about October to breed, and leave for mainland Australia in late February to mid March. Juveniles depart for mainland wintering grounds in late March to early April. It is thought that they mostly travel at night.
Feeding and diet
The Orange-bellied Parrot feeds on the ground or on low-growing shrubs, with food consisting of seeds, fruits, flowers and berries of sedges, herbaceous plants and plants that grow in salty or alkaline conditions such as saltmarshes.
Feeding can be accompanied by a soft warbling, and the contact call uttered in flight is a sharp 'tzit' repeated every few seconds. Most distinctive is the alarm call it makes when flushed, a unique 'buzzing', described as 'metallic' and 'explosive'.
The Orange-bellied Parrot nests in tree-hollows, both knot-holes in trunks and holes in dead branches, but usually not in stags (dead trees). The female cleans out the nest hollow then lays the eggs about two days apart. She incubates the eggs and broods the nestlings, while being fed by the male every two to three hours. The male may feed up to 5 km away from the nest site. When the nestlings are about ten days old, the female leaves them during the day and helps the male in feeding them. The juvenile birds leave the nest four to five weeks after hatching and may be fed by their parents before becoming independent. Juveniles form small foraging flocks and depart for the mainland about a month later than the adults.
- Breeding Season: November to December.
The Orange-bellied Parrot is one of Australia's most threatened species, with less than 50 parrots thought to exist in the wild today. It is protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) and is listed as Critically Endangered.
Current threats to the species include:
- Habitat loss and modification
- Predation by cats and foxes
- Spread of noxious weeds
- Mortality caused by collisions with structures
- Inbreeding due to small population and other genetic factors
Historical records indicate that the Orange-bellied Parrot was once fairly abundant within its range, but it is now one of the rarest of Australian birds. Studies of the population suggest that fewer than 60 birds exist. Direct human impact includes loss of its wintering grounds, and indirect impacts includes competition for nesting sites by the introduced Common Starling. In 1984, the first national recovery plan for a single species was put forward for the Orange-bellied Parrot. Some progress has been made, with the nesting area protected by the World Heritage Area of south-west Tasmania, and other critical areas have been protected too. A captive breeding program has released birds to the wild but there is still a long way to go before the Orange-bellied Parrot is out of danger.