|Photo copyright Dave Watts|
With a mere 50 or so individuals surviving in the wild, this species is edging closer to extinction every day. For the past few years, the wild population has been estimated between 140 and 180 birds--a steep decline from 'common, or locally abundant' in the 1920s. Only in the past year have the numbers dropped even lower as sightings of wild birds have grown fewer.
Three captive breeding populations exist in zoos around Australia, and it's these unfortunate Orange Bellies that are sick. An unknown virus has infected birds in the captive breeding program, causing some of them to lose their feathers and weakening their immune systems. Scientists believe that the virus may spread more easily in the captive population because they are so close to each other. The program has had some success annually releasing captive-bred birds to help sustain the wild population--so if the captive breeding program suffers, so will the wild population.
Orange Bellies are a migratory species, breeding and nesting in southwestern Tasmania, and spending the rest of the year in coastal areas in South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. This month is migration month, and all wild Orange Bellies are making their way south to Tasmania, where mated pairs will build nests and lay 2-6 eggs.
Of course, these parrots also face the usual threats of habitat loss and invasive species. You can learn more about their food, habitat, life cycle, and what's being done to help them here. If you live in Australia and want to help, you could volunteer with Birds Australia.