Friday, August 30, 2013

La Billardiere's Ground Parrot

The item is acknowledged: 
         State Library of New South Wales – X980/15B

Image 13 from La Billardiere's folio published 1799: an Eastern Ground Parrot.

La Billardiere's Ground Parrot

In 1786, a French expedition was commissioned to visit New Holland to search for an apparantly lost French expedition that had been captained by La Perouse, and also to do some scientific study. 

This new expedition was commanded by D'Entrecasteaux and comprised two vessels: 'La Recherche' and 'L'Esperance'. 

One of the scientists on board was Jacques-Julien de la Billardiere, primarily a botanist. The Ground Parrot was collected in late 1792 or early 1793 when they were anchored at an inlet, that they called Rocky Bay, off Storm Bay,south of Hobart, Tasmania(then van Diemen's Land).  They named the bird a Black-spotted Parrakeet and noted

 it was green in colour, spotted with black, and moving constantly among the grasses, the bird did not perch in trees.

The expedition came to grief on the way back to France. In Java both D'Entrecasteaux and his second in command died,and then the ships were captured by the Dutch as France was at war with Holland. The collection of specimens was confiscated. On its way back to Amsterdam it was seized by the British who were also at war with the Dutch. Eventually, thanks to intervention by Sir Joseph Banks, it was restored to La Billardiere who had by then made his way back to France.

 La Billardiere published an account of the voyage in 1799 accompanied by a folio of 47 illustrations. Only four of the illustrations are birds, and the Ground Parrot is one of them. La Billardiere's 1799 publication was titled "Relation du voyage a la Recherche de la Perouse", and the folio of illustrations, "Atlas pour servir de la relation du voyage a la Recherche de la Perouse".

La Recherche and L'Esperance

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ground Parrot Specimens in Sweden

It is likely that Ground Parrot skins were sent to several museums and stately homes in Europe during the late 1700s and the 1800s when there was a fervour to discover and collect the wildlife of the wider world and to classify it.

In the 1800s, Australia was a group of British colonies later to become States with the main land mass still being called New Holland. Eastern Ground Parrots occurred in all Eastern States of Australia, including Queensland. The Western Ground Parrot occurs only in southern Western Australia.

The Goteburg Natural History Museum in Sweden holds five Ground Parrot specimens. All were given to the museum in 1864 by James J. Dickson, as part of a collection of Australian bird skins. The collection includes Superb Parrot, Brolga, Musk Lorikeet, Blue Bonnet, King Parrot, Superb Lyrebird, Satin Bowerbird, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Flame Robin, Superb Blue Fairy-wren, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Orange-bellied Parrot and several other more widespread species. None of these birds occurs in southern Western Australia and there are no southern Western Australian endemics on the list. It is possible but by no means certain that the collection was made in the colony of Victoria though not from the same location. All are labeled as from New Holland with nothing more specific. As part of this collection, the Ground Parrots are highly likely to be Eastern Ground Parrots.

One specimen is mounted and its image appears below. The number 1742 which can be seen on one of the labels on a skin is a specimen number, not a date.

We were aided in obtaining the above information by Dr G. Nilson, Collection Strategist – Senior Curator of Vertebrates, Goteburg Natural History Museum, Sweden. ( He also supplied the photo of two skins.

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.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

WGP entry in Western Australia’s first bird book

Serventy, D.L. and Whittell, H.M. (1967). Birds of Western Australia. Lamb Publications Pty.Ltd. Perth, WA.

This book was initially published in 1948 and was the first comprehensive guide to Western Australian birds. It contains some illustrations but the Ground Parrot is not among them. The Western Ground Parrot is called here the Ground Parrot and is under the scientific name Pezoporus wallicus which is still the scientific name of the Eastern Ground Parrot. The text below is from the fourth edition. There was a subsequent and final edition by The University of Western Australia Press, in 1976.

Ground Parrot
Pezoporus wallicus

Native names: Boo-run-dur-dee (north of Perth); Djar-
dong-garri, Djar-doon-gur-ree (Perth); Djul-bat-ta (south);
Ky-lor-ing (Albany).
General colour grass-green with wavy barrings above and below
of yellow and dark brown; a prominent red forehead bond; no
yellow on the cheeks; a pale yellow wing stripe. Iris, brown; beak,
light horn colour; legs, long, flesh colour. Length, 12 in.
Young birds lack the red forehead band.
When flushed the Ground Parrot rises suddenly like a quail and
flies off with a zig-zag flight, displaying the pale yellow wing stripe.
It drops suddenly about 50 or 60 yards ahead, when it may be again
flushed. The red forehead band is easily visible on birds which may
be sighted on the ground. 
Distribution: This species is now rare and of restricted distri-
bution in Western Australia, but in the early days it occurred on the
coastal plain from north of Perth to Albany. Up to recently the last
individuals which appear to have been observed by naturalists in this
State were noted by S. W. Jackson at Irwin’s Inlet in 1912 and by
F. Lawson Whitlock in the wet blackboy flats around Denmark in
1913. However, in December 1952 J. W. Baggs saw 4 birds at the
Bow River, near Irwin’s Inlet. In November 1963 members of the
R.A.O.U. saw the birds at Cheyne Beach, where they had previously
been observed by C. Allen in 1947.
Nesting: The nest is usually placed below some low bushy plant,
where a circular depression is scratched out in the soil and lined
with grasses. A nest found by Whitlock at Wilson’s Inlet on Novem-
ber 20, 1913, had 3 fresh eggs; pure white, roundish in shape, fine
and smooth with very little gloss. Size, 27 x 22 mm. Another nest
found by the same ornithologist in the same locality on October 20,
1912, had two nestlings a few days old.

This 1988 photo by Dr Allan Burbidge shows the pale yellow wing stripe as referred to in the WGP entry from Serventy and Whittell's 'Birds of Western Australia'.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

First colour photos of the Western Ground Parrot 1988

There were no colour photos of the Western Ground Parrot (WGP) prior to 1988. In fact there were no photos of WGPs at all, apart from one of nestlings and one of eggs taken by W.L. Whitlock in 1912 and 1913 respectively when he discovered nests. 
The birds in the photos above were captured in what was soon to become the northern part of the Fitzgerald River National Park, as part of the first attempt to study the habitat preferences of WGPs by radio-tracking. Each photo shows an adult bird (bright orange band above bill)The top image (head only), is by research scientist Allan Burbidge and the lower photo of a banded bird is by volunteer Kaye Vaux.   During the fieldwork for this project, between October and December 1988, thirteen WGPs were captured and released. After completion of the project, no additional photos of  live WGPs were taken until late 2004. 

Finding Western Ground Parrot nests

Whitlock, F. L. (1914). Notes on the Spotless Crake and Western Ground Parrot. Emu 13, 202-205.

This article is the original account of finding two Western Ground Parrot (WGP) nests in the wild back in 1912 and 1913, a feat not repeated since.

The location of these nests was in winter wet flats at Wilson’s Inlet near Denmark, Western Australia. Mr Whitlock found WGPs to be quite uncommon.

Only that part of the article that relates to WGPs is reproduced below.

Notes on the Spotless Crake and Western Ground Parrot.


Mr. A. J. North has separated the Western Ground-Parrot from
the Eastern form, under the name Pezoporus flaviventris. Inform-
ation as to the character of the nest and eggs of the Western
form became, therefore, desirable. I found it a very difficult
bird to study, and the task of finding its nest and eggs
trying in the extreme to one’s patience. 

It is absolutely the most silent and unobtrusive bird I have yet encountered
in Western Australia. Occasionally one may unexpectedly
flush an individual in some more or less frequented spot;
but as a rule to find these birds one must go to the un-
disturbed flats and systematically tramp through all the closely-
growing vegetation, and, if in luck, an odd bird, or at times even
a pair, may be flushed, with a startling suddenness, into a flight
of 40 or 50 yards, when they drop into the herbage again just
as suddenly as they rose. I have never seen this species fly at
a greater height than 8 or 9 feet. The flight is slightly undulatory,
but very different to that of ordinary Parrots, the wings being
very rapidly beaten at intervals, with periods of gliding flight
more like that of a Quail between, the tips of the wings being
pointed downwards like those of the latter bird. It never flies
any great distance, and when about to alight appears to fall
headlong to the ground. Usually it can be flushed again if
followed immediately, as it does not appear to run along after
alighting. Once or twice I have been able to watch a bird at
close quarters. Despite its long legs, it does not appear very
active on the ground, but it certainly moves with more grace and
greater ease than the average Parrot, the awkward, waddling gait
of the latter being quite absent.

The early settlers in this district tell me this species is not so
frequently seen as formerly. Common, in the true sense of the
term, I can hardly believe it ever Was, and, with the numbers of
large lizards haunting the flats, the wonder is it has not been
exterminated years ago. Mr. James Knapp, who was born in
this district over fifty years ago, states that as a boy he has more
than once marked a bird down, and by carefully crawling on
hands and knees has knocked it over with a stick. He attributes
the diminishing numbers of these beautiful Parrots to Quail-
shooters; but there are many square miles of flats as absolutely
undisturbed now as they were fifty years ago. Bush-fires are
probably more frequent now than formerly, and in dry seasons
there may be some destruction of young not yet strong enough on
the wing to escape.

In the spring of I912 I spent many tiring hours tramping the
flats on behalf of Mr. H. L. White, of Belltrees, N.S.W., in quest
of the eggs of this species. Though I not infrequently flushed the
birds, it was not until after weeks of plodding search that I dis-'
covered a nest containing two young birds a few days old. This
was on 20th October. The nesting-site was on a low but dry
ridge, thickly clothed with herbage, amongst which a few small,
rounded, prickly bushes were groWing—probably a species of
dwarf Hakea. A slight hollow had been scratched out by the
parents and scantily lined With dry grasses. The young birds
uttered feeble and querulous cries when handled. Their bodies
were clothed with a neutral-tinted down, with beak, legs, and
feet lead~coloured. I photographed them as they lay in the nest.
I saw absolutely nothing of the parents, nor could I flush them
near at hand.

The present season I found a nest of the previous year, with
remains of the hatched eggs, and was also fortunate, after a long
and weary search, in securing three fine and freshly-laid eggs
from a nest sheltered, as before, by a prickly ( (?) Hakea) bush.
This was on 20th November-just a month later than the previous
season. I flushed the female from this nest at a distance of about
IO feet away, and, though I made several attempts to see her
sitting on her eggs, I was unsuccessful in this respect. The eggs
were well sheltered by the overhanging bush, and the nest was
very neatly lined with fine dead grasses, the latter being arranged
in a true circular manner. When flushed the female flew a short
distance away, and uttered no sound. I saw nothing of the
male. As far as I can judge, he spends the day at some distance
from the nest, lying concealed in low, thick scrub, from which he
will not emerge until nearly trodden upon.

In searching for a nest of this species I may state that I
examined no less than nine nests of the Emu-Wren (Stipiturus
wessternensis)—all this season’s. It is a curious fact that such
a small and feeble-flying species as the Emu-Wren can hold its own
when larger species like the Noisy Scrub-Bird (Atrichia clamosa)
and the Western Bristle-Bird (Sphenura longirostris) are, in this
coastal district, verging upon, if not quite, extinct.

The eggs from this nest were described by Mr. H. L. White in
The Emu, ]anuary, 1914. They now form part of his fine

Nesting Site of Western Ground-Parrot (Pezoporus flaviventris)
From a photo by F.L. Whitlock