Chris Coleborn

Government and scientific organizations list as endangered various species of our unique Australian birds. Because of the changing land use and loss of habitat, as well as the introduction of predators such as the fox and cat, sadly, some very special species of our birds are threatened with extinction unless care is taken to protect them and their habitat. Among these special birds are Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters, though other birds are more rare and endangered, such as the Orange-bellied Parrot.

The Swift Parrot is a migratory parrot, which is found most of the year in Tasmania. In winter it migrates to the mainland of Australia. Recent surveys have shown that the total population of Swift Parrots in Australia may number less than 1,000 pairs.

This slender, noisy, energetic parrot breeds in the Blue Gum forests of eastern Tasmania during October to January before migrating to the mainland sometime in February to May. In winter they are found mainly in southern, central and north-east Victoria, but occasionally in New South Wales and into the south-east of Queensland. I remember some years ago seeing one in a gum tree at Mt. Tambourine. They are also found in south-eastern South Australia in the winter months.

The Swift Parrot are said to be related to Rosellas, but with the nectar-eating habits of lorikeets, especially the Musk Lorikeet. They also eat lerps and soft fruits, berries and have been known to sometimes forage in grass. They are basically emerald greed on the back, and darken from a pale lime green on the chest to a darker green on the belly. They have a wash of yellow on the face and chin and around the shoulder of their wings, with blood red around their beaks and on their chins and mottling red on their shoulders and vent feathers. Their long tail feathers are also red on the outside and brown underneath. There is a patch of blue on their ear covers, foreheads and in their wing feathers, which are dark grey. Their long, fine-pointed tail, distinguish them from lorikeets with their short stumpy tails. They fly, as their name suggest, swiftly, in small, tight flocks, weaving through the forests, their tinkling, chattering calls advertizing their presence. They remind me of a flock of Budgerigars.

To survive these special parrots have various needs. They need to have a continuous supply of winter-flowering eucalypt blossom of such trees as Red Ironbark, Mugga Ironbark, Yellow Gum, White Box and Grey Box. With forest clearing their winter habitat and food resources are becoming less and less. Occasionally they will feed on other trees such as River Red Gums and Blakel’s Red Gums, and other non-indigenous eucalypts.

Because they need the hollows of old forest Blue Gums for breeding, the clearing of old forests in Tasmania for wood chipping and the planting of young forests, their nesting sites are diminishing.

If we are to care for and preserve these special birds into the future, we need to support the preservation of their breeding and winter feeding habitat. Part of a Christian’s calling is to care for the world and its creatures around us. (Genesis 2:15, "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.")

Another bird, this time a honeyeater, is also in real danger of extinction. It is the Regent Honeyeater, a boldly, attractively patterned black, yellow and white honeyeater with patches of bare, pinkish skin around its eyes. The numbers of this delightful bird are said to have fallen to the critically low level of fewer than 1,000 birds now existing.

Regent Honeyeaters occur mainly in box-ironbark open forests. A large amount of their time is spent feeding on nectar from a few "key" eucalypts such as Mugga Ironbark, White Box, Yellow Box, Yellow Gum and Blakely’s Red Gum as well as mistletoe, especially that growing on River Oaks.

It is of critical importance that stands of these bird’s favourite eucalypts growing in the type of country where nectar production is plentiful and predictable be preserved. As with so many threatened, rare and endangered species of our fauna today, the preservation or loss of their habitat seems to be one of the most crucial factors in their survival. The decline of this special bird appears to be closely linked to a steady reduction in the extent and quality of its habitat. Many of the remaining stands of the "key" eucalypt species have suffered in the past from land clearing for agriculture and the harvesting of timber.

Regent Honeyeaters are highly mobile, rarely remaining long in one place unless breeding. Even then, they usually depart as soon as their young are independent. During winter, Regent Honeyeaters disperse widely in small groups. In spring they concentrate into the main breeding areas around Chiltern and Benalla in Victoria and Capertee Valley, Bundarra District and the Warrumbungles in NSW. Other sites regularly visited include Canberra and the Mudgee and Gosford areas in NSW. Many pairs breed in small remnants of open forest in farmland or along roadsides. Previously this species ranged as far north as Rockhampton, and well south and west beyond Melbourne. However, today they are only rarely found in south eastern Queensland and rarely around Melbourne.

The specialized requirements and elusive behaviour of the Regent Honeyeater make planning for its conservation difficult. In order to ensure the numbers and range of this species do not decline further, a Recovery Plan is being implemented in NSW and Vic. The plan aims to secure existing habitat and to increase through planting of "key" species to extend its habitat.

Some Christians have thought that seeing the creation is under the curse, and it will all pass away one day, we ought not to be concerned about the loss of species. It is certainly true that the fashion of this world will pass away, and we look for a new heaven and earth. It must be remembered at the same time however, that we are to be stewards of this world under Christ Jesus even with the curse, and to care for and protect as best we can the world around us, including the creatures. God cares for the sparrow - so ought we.

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, October 2002