Saturday, August 17, 2013

Early Eastern Ground Parrot Observations.....

Edwards, H. V. (1924). Notes on the Ground Parrot. Emu 24, 35-37.

This article is a very early report on Eastern Ground Parrots (EGPs) in NSW and, as well as a record of observations, includes reflections on why this species has become more scarce in the years since the writer first observed EGPs  in 1884.

Although Mr Edwards reported that they had completely vanished from the Bega district by the time he was writing in 1924, ground parrots are still known in low numbers in some areas not far from the NSW coast.

Many characteristics of the Eastern Ground Parrot are shared by the Western Ground Parrot.

The illustration pre-dates Mr Edwards observations.

Notes on The Ground Parrot

By H. V. EDWARDS, R.A.O.U., Bega, N.S.W.

My acquaintance with the Ground Parrot Pezoporus walli~
cus) began about the year 1884, at which period, though never
apparently numerous, it might usually be flushed from the long
coarse grass and tussocks which then covered most of the gul—
lies and flats at the Kameruka Estate, in the Bega district on the
far south coast of New South Wales. The bird also haunted
the swamps, and was occasionally discovered among bracken on
the hillsides, but kept mainly to the denser cover, unless disturbed
and driven to take shelter elsewhere. lt was most commonly
found singly, although at times a couple of birds might be driven
from the same patch of cover. This Parrot rarely flies far, and
after covering a short distance in jerky, hesitating flight, plumps
back into Cover, much as a Quail does. During at day's Quail
shooting a few Ground-Parrots were almost invariably flushed
or were seen at times only a few yards in front of one's feet,
running silently through the tussocks, as they are loath to take
wing if they can escape by this means. These birds carry n
strong scent, and dogs set them as they do Quail. On one or
two occasions I found the dull-while eggs two in number, lying
on bare, damp earth beneath the shelter of a tussock, without
the slightest pretence of the formation of a nest. In those un~
regenerate days beautiful and always more or less rare birds
like the Ground—Parrot were very commonly shot and added to
the bag.

Personally I have never seen the Ground-Parrot perch -even
momentarily, on tussocks or elsewhere, but Horace Wheelwright
(the "Old Bushman") writing in the fifties of last century of
the fauna of Victoria, says that he occasionally saw the Ground-
Parrot perch on teatree scrub, and that he found the bird at
times about swamps in which, in places, the water was knee~deep.
The country in which Wheelwright made his observations lay
at the furthest not more than forty miles from Melbourne. He
also noted that pointers and other sporting dogs would set the
Ground-Parrot. The crops of birds incidentally shot on the
south coast of New South Wales contained seeds chiefly.

This Parrot was also found, at the period first mentioned, on
the rich Tarraganda flats, quite close to the town of Bega, but
during a long experience I have never met with or even heard
of it on the much colder Monaro highlands immediately above
the far south coastal districts. So far as the coastal districts
mentioned are concerned,the Ground-Parrot has long been but
a memory of the past. To its practical---probable entire —extinction
 three causes contributed:—

First, the increase in numbers of the perfectly useless and
terribly destructive European fox, introduced to this district,
and probably spreading also into it from others about the late
eighties of last century. This cunning animal must have played
havoc with the eggs and nestlings of the Ground-Parrot, and no
doubt also often stalked and seized adult birds as well.

Secondly, the advent and quick increase in numbers of rabbits,
which penetrated over the Australian Alps to the Monaro dis-
trict, and from it soon spread to the coastal districts below.
Poisoned wheat and other grains were at first used as baits
for the destruction of the rabbit, and the Ground-Parrot, being
mainly a seed eater, suffered greatly, in common with many
other birds.

Thirdly radical alterations in and destruction of its natural
environment, many swamps being drained and the tussocks and
other coarse grasses eaten off close in consequence of heavier
stocking, while other changes in the country, also destructive
of the Ground-Parrot's natural sanctuaries, followed on the heels
of closer settlement and the subdivision into smaller areas of
the best agricultural and pasture lands. 

These three causes—
but especially the two first, finally rang the death knell of the
Ground-Parrot so far as the quarters under consideration are

But what to the writer seems strange (seeing that the Ground-
Parrot survived it, though it may in part account for the fact
that the bird has never at any time been numerous) is the cir-
cumstance that the grassy gullies and swamps in which it was
most at home were always haunted in number by native eats
(Dasyurus). These actively predaceous little animals, keen of
scent, continually scoured the gullies and swamps, often in se~
eluded places. by day, in quest of food, of which terrestrial
birds, their nestlings and eggs, formed no inconsiderable part.

Yet in spite of these primeval natural enemies, the Ground-
Parrot held its own. Owing to the direct agency of rabbit poison,
and the fact that native cats (unlike the tiger cat, which prefers
to kill its own meat) fed on the carcasses of poisoned rabbits,
these animals have themselves also become practically extinct in
this district.
In conclusion, I may mention that, some years ago, writer
in the Sydney Mail stated that, in a certain quarter of New
South Wales, where the Ground-Parrot then still existed, the
birds had taken to nesting in hollows excavated in steep banks
and cliff-faces affording spaces of soft earth sufficient in depth
for the formation of tunnels. They are said thus to have escaped at any rate the ravages of foxes.

Old illustration of Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus). Created by Kretschmer, published on Merveilles de la Nature, Bailliere et fils, Paris, 1878

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