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Critically Endangered Parrot Makes a Comeback

The Vibrantly Colored Orange-bellied Parrot

There's a glimmer of hope in the fight against extinction. The vibrantly colored Orange-bellied Parrot, a critically endangered species native to Australia, has shown a remarkable increase in population this year. Over 80 individuals returned to their breeding grounds in Tasmania – the highest number in a decade and a half!

This news comes after years of tireless efforts by conservationists who have witnessed the bird's population plummet to a point of near-extinction. In 2016, only a meager 3 females migrated back from the mainland, raising serious concerns about the species' future.

The road to recovery hasn't been easy. Releasing captive-bred birds, a common conservation strategy, proved ineffective for the Orange-bellied Parrot. Their perilous journey between breeding and wintering grounds appeared too much for the youngsters to handle.

"It's a huge team effort," says wildlife biologist Shannon Troy, highlighting the crucial role volunteers play in monitoring and aiding these resilient birds. Researchers are constantly learning and adapting their strategies to fit the specific needs of this unique species.

One major hurdle has been the significant habitat loss on the mainland, where the parrots spend their winters. Development and agriculture have drastically reduced their feeding grounds, exposing them to new predators like feral cats and foxes.

Furthermore, traditional fire management practices by Tasmanian Aboriginal people helped maintain the parrots' preferred food sources. The decline of these practices has shifted the vegetation, making it less suitable for the birds.

Another critical factor is the Orange-bellied Parrot's dwindling genetic diversity, a consequence of their low population numbers. This makes them more susceptible to diseases.

Interestingly, researchers have observed differences in wing shapes between captive-bred and wild parrots. This could be a factor contributing to the high mortality rates of released birds.

Despite the challenges, there's a newfound optimism. Researchers like Troy are meticulously monitoring each individual and nest, providing supplementary feeding, and experimenting with controlled burn-offs in Tasmania to improve their food resources.

Collaborative efforts involving sanctuaries, zoos, and wildlife management facilities are also aiding captive breeding and release programs.

The dedication of countless volunteers is proving invaluable. Their work provides scientists with a wealth of data, crucial for understanding the complexities of this species' struggle for survival.

"Few conservation programs can scrutinize individual fitness at such fine resolution," say researchers Stojanovic and Heinsohn, emphasizing the significance of the data collected on the Orange-bellied Parrot.

The fight for the Orange-bellied Parrot is far from over, but this year's positive development offers a beacon of hope. With continued dedication and innovation, these feathery marvels might just be pulled back from the brink.