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Golden-shouldered parrot

Golden-shouldered parrot

Golden-shouldered parrot

Common name: golden-shouldered parrot

Scientific name: Psephotus chrysopterygius

Family: Psittacidae

Conservation status: This species is listed as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a critical priority under the department's Back on Track species prioritisation framework.

Description: The golden-shouldered parrot measures 240-260mm in length including its long tapered tail. Like most parrots it is brilliantly coloured, especially the male which is primarily turquoise with a salmon pink belly and bronze wings boasting a streak of bright yellow. The bronze extends to some of its tail feathers, with the rest being black like its crown. Females and immature birds are mostly various shades of green with a turquoise rump.

Habitat and distribution

The golden-shouldered parrot was once found over most of Cape York Peninsula, but is now restricted to two populations on the Peninsula, covering less than 2000km2. The species only occurs in the southern and central Cape York Peninsula, where it has probably always been patchily distributed. The northern population is estimated at 1500 mature individuals based on 2009 surveys. The southern population is estimated at 1000 individuals based on surveys in 1999 and 2004.

Golden-shouldered parrots are found predominately on pastoral lease land and protected estate (National Park). The golden-shouldered parrot has been recorded in the following protected areas: Artemis Antbed Nature Refuge, Holroyd Nature Refuge, KULLA (McIlwraith Range) National Park (CYPAL), Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL), Oyala Thumotang National Park (CYPAL), and Staaten River National Park.

The parrot has a preference for tropical savanna woodland. During the dry season, the choice of habitat appears to be based on the grass seed availability. Nesting appears to be more successful where grass has been invaded by woodland. Table 1 shows the different types of habitat used by the parrot at different stages and seasons.

Table 1. Habitat and use by the golden-shouldered parrot

Habitat type

Critical habitat for:

Gravel slopes (low open tea-tree woodland)

Wet season feeding and breeding

Glimmer grass flats (low open tea-tree woodland)

Wet season feeding

Broad flats (low open tea-tree woodlands and grass flats)

Breeding season feeding, roosting

Narrow flats (low tea-tree woodland)


Flat edges (Cape York red gum woodland)


Bare areas (stream beds, roads, scalds)

Wet and dry season feeding

Box flats (shiny-leaved box open woodland)

Nesting, dry season feeding, breeding season feeding

Riparian forest (paperbark open forests)


Swamp edges (paperbark tea-tree swamp woodland)

Late wet season feeding, roosting

Rocky hills (ironbark, bum and bloodwood woodlands)

Wet season feeding

Sand ridges and low hills (messmate and bloodwood woodlands)

Feeding, breeding season feeding, roosting, nesting

Life history and behavour

Golden-shouldered parrots are characteristically found in pairs or family groups of three to eight birds. They fly with swift, direct movements but spend much of their time on the ground feeding on the seeds of annual and perennial grasses, particularly fire grass (Schizachyrium spp.). Most of the year small areas with abundant seeds are occupied with a preference for open habitat that has been created by dry season fires. A shortage of food occurs annually in the wet season forcing the parrots to change their diet to include other grasses, such as glimmer grass Planichloa nervilemma. During heavy rain the parrots sit quietly in trees not feeding. During continuous heavy rain the birds are at a high risk of dying as they are unable to meet their food requirements.

Golden-shouldered parrots make their nests in termite mounds. Mounds are rarely occupied more than once, possibly due to the difficulty of nest parasites, such as lice or because the mounds repaired by termites are difficult to excavate. As mounds are usually only suitable for nesting when they are 30–50 years old, there are problems in some areas where most mounds of a suitable size have already been used.

Breeding occurs from March to June, after termites have stopped building (when the rain stops) and when plenty of green seed is available. Females lay on average five to six eggs at two day intervals. Of the eggs, approximately 74% hatch in 20 days. Of the young hatched, approximately 65% are fully fledged in five weeks. The main reason for nest failure is predation, particularly between April and May. Re-nesting has only been observed following the failure or desertion of nests early in the breeding season.

Threatening processes

The shortage of food that occurs annually in the wet season is often made worse by a lack of burning and intense cattle and pig grazing. Altered fire patterns and grazing have also resulted in an increase in the density of woody shrubs which, it is thought, increases the vulnerability of the parrots to predators. Other threatening processes that may potentially impact the parrot include trapping, predation by pied butcherbirds and habitat clearing.

Since European settlement, there has been a reduction in the number of intentionally lit fires and late dry season burning programs. Research suggests that this has resulted in a contraction of parrot numbers and distribution due to alteration of habitat. Appropriate fires are required to keep the grasslands open and promote wet season food availability.

Animals such as small goannas Varanus spp. and pied butcherbirds Cracticus nigrogularis predate on the eggs and nestlings of the golden-shouldered parrot. Once adults, the parrots are susceptible to predation by butcherbirds, particularly in dense vegetation. The parrots are particularly vulnerable to predation when feeding on the ground.

Feral pigs can cause major destruction to the land through their behaviour, which includes rooting for food, wallowing, trampling, tusking or rubbing trees, and eating just about anything. These habits adversely affect birds that nest and dwell on the ground, such as the golden-shouldered parrot. Feral pigs damage termite mounds, causing the loss of nesting sites and allowing the establishment of weeds that compete with these birds' preferred native food and habitat plants.

Recovery actions

A recovery plan for the golden-shouldered parrot has been developed. The plan sets out objectives for increasing the numbers of the birds and specific actions that need to be taken to achieve these objectives.

Management guidelines recommend the following:

  • manage existing habitat to maintain an open grassland woodland structure and protect termite mounds for nesting
  • control pig numbers in critical parrot habitat through the use of baiting and fencing
  • protect critical habitat from unintentional fires through the dry season. Implement early dry-season burning regimes
  • manage critical habitat using low stocking rates
  • restore deserted suitable habitat to encourage natural recolonisation of parrots.

In addition to the management actions in the recovery plan, the 2010 Action plan for Australian birds also recommends the following management actions for the species:

  • survey wet season and breeding distributions of southern population
  • habitat monitoring for the northern population
  • protection of nesting mounds in selected parts of the northern population.

The department’s staff have previously been directly involved in the recovery process of the golden-shouldered parrot through land management decisions, such as maintaining appropriate fire regimes and undertaking surveys.

The results of surveys to locate nests in Cape York between 1992 and 2008 are presented in the graph below.

Figure 1: The number of golden-shouldered parrot nests surveyed per year (Data provided by S. Garnett, G. Crowley, S. Shephard and T. Shephard.)

Figure 1: The number of golden-shouldered parrot nests surveyed per year (Data provided by S. Garnett, G. Crowley, S. Shephard and T. Shephard.)

Findings from surveys and monitoring have contributed to the understanding of threatening processes affecting the parrot. Appropriate land management appears to be the key to recovery of the golden-shouldered parrot.

Related information

Crowley GM, Garnett ST and Shephard S. 2004. Management guidelines for golden-shouldered parrot conservation. (PDF) Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Brisbane.

Department of Environment. 2016. Psephotus chrysopterygius golden-shouldered parrot. Species Profile and Threat Database. Department of Environment, Canberra.

Garnett ST and Crowley GM. 2002. Recovery Plan for the golden-shouldered parrot Psephotus chrysopterygius 2003-2007. Report to Environment Australia, Canberra. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Brisbane.

Garnett ST, Szabo JK and Duntson G. 2011. The action plan for Australian birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.

Last updated
25 September 2017