Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Horace Wheelwright on the Swamp Parrot

Swamp Parrot was a common name often used for the Ground Parrot.

Horace Wheelwright was in the colony of Victoria for about seven years between 1852 and 1859. He was a naturalist, hunter, sportsman and writer. He spent a lot of time camped in the bush near Melbourne where he made a living by hunting for the Melbourne market - for food and trap-shooting competitions. 
As well as kangaroos and other mammals, many birds were taken -duck, quail, pigeon snipe, wattlebirds (5 shillings per dozen), assorted parrots and more.

I can agree with H. Wheelwright that the Ground Parrot rarely perches. In several viewings of the Western Ground Parrot over the years, only once have I seen one perched and that was in a low mallee. It was on a branch that was horizontal to the ground and only about 0.7 metre above it. As well,they do climb into and over shrubs to feed. As to the call of Ground Parrot, Wheelwright may have suffered a little deafness and couldn't detect the high notes, or his camp was sufficiently far from the haunts of the Ground Parrot for him not to hear the morning and evening calling sessions. (BJN)

The reference by Serventy and Whittell (see previous blog entry) is from Wheelwright's popular book.

Wheelwright, H.W. (1865). Bush Wanderings of a Naturalist; or, Notes on the field sports and fauna 
of Australia Felix. By an Old Bushman. Frederick Warne and Co., London.
(There was a previous edition in 1861 with a different publisher.)

We had a curious ground parrot, common in the long
grass in the plains, on the heather, and often in low
tea-tree scrub (sometimes up to the knees in water)
called the Swamp Parrot. I have heard some very
learned ornithologists call it the Pheasant Cuckoo, which
I consider a very far-fetched name. The tail certainly is
shaped like that of the common pheasant, and it is
barred, and here the resemblance ends; but in what
respect this bird resembles the cuckoo, I never could
make out, seeing that it lives on the ground, has the
beak of the tree-parrot, and the call-note is nothing
more than a faint twitter. The swamp-parrot is an
elegant bird, both in shape and plumage; nearly as large
as the rosella, but not so plump. The ground colour,
light sea-green; every feather of three colours, green,
black, and yellow; a long pointed tail, the feathers
barred with black and yellow, and a red forehead. The
shape of the beak, head, and body, is that of the parrot.
But the legs are long and bare; the claws long, straight,
and pointed. In fact, it is a tree-parrot with the foot of
the lark. It lives on the ground (but I have seen them
perch on the tea-tree scrub), runs much and quickly, is
hard to rise, flies in jerks, goes away very sharp before
a wind, and is very pretty shooting, rising from the grass
and heather. We used to find them during the whole
year, frequenting different localities at different times;
and although they could scarcely be said to flock, I
generally rose three or four on the same spot. Dogs
will set them like quail.

The next few blog entries will also focus on early records by Europeans of the Eastern Ground Parrot as this one does.

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