‘Matrix of threats’: the precarious plight of Tasmania’s swift parrots

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More than six years after the world’s fastest parrot was listed as critically endangered, its habitat and numbers continue to dwindle

The critically endangered swift parrot has returned to Tasmania for another breeding season but, with logging threatening its habitat, the species faces an uncertain future.

The world’s fastest parrot is a colourful and secretive migratory bird that ranges across Australia’s south-east before returning to tree hollows in Tasmania’s old-growth forests to breed and raise its young.

The birds’ arrival is timed with flowering blue gum trees, and with different patches flowering each year, the precise location they land changes each season.

This year’s sightings began at the end of spring in Lonnavale forest, an area of old-growth in southern Tasmania.

Though the parrots have returned in good numbers this year, their future remains uncertain. Without intervention, peer-reviewed research anticipates they will go extinct by 2031.

Swift parrot population numbers have collapsed from 8,000 breeding pairs to fewer than 1,000, due mostly to the logging of their habitat. Current estimates put their numbers at about 750 individual birds.

Mick Roderick from BirdLife Australia said a “matrix of threats” was putting pressure on the species, both on the mainland and in their breeding grounds.

“One of the issues with swifties is that on the mainland they’ve lost their wintering habitat, so they’ve got fewer options,” Roderick said. “Then there’s an issue in Tasmania where the government wants to keep logging.”

“They are as threatened as they can be before being extinct in the wild. The next step is extinct in the world.”

Logging resumed in 2018 after a brief pause on activity in some sensitive areas of Tasmania.

In July last year the Tasmanian government released a wood production plan allowing logging companies to fell areas – referred to as coupes – where the swift parrot is known to breed.

Jenny Weber, campaign manager for the Bob Brown Foundation, said a survey undertaken by conservationists last week found a logging operation within 500 metres of swift parrot feeding grounds.

“Last week, 124 Australian species were listed by IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] on the threatened species list and if the Swift parrot is anything to go by, it’s not clear the Australian government will do anything prevent their extinction either,” Weber said.

“It has been more than six years since the Swift parrot was listed as critically endangered and its habitat continues to be logged and the species is declining.”

The operation was temporarily halted after a volunteer informed authorities about the presence of the birds near the logging site.

Tom Allen, campaign manager for the Wilderness Society, said the area being logged was “spectacular” and the presence of the critically endangered birds made the idea of logging the area “tragic”.

“Anyone wondering why the world’s fastest parrot is going extinct has the answer right there in front of them,” Allen said. “It’s unbelievable that high conservation wood and swift parrot habitat is signed off as sustainable by the Wood Certification Scheme.”

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