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).

Description: The golden-shouldered parrot measures 240-260mm in length including its long tapered tail. Male birds are turquoise with a brown back and have a prominent golden shoulder which contrasts with blackish flight feathers. The forehead is yellow and it has a black cap that tapers on to its neck. Its belly is salmon red. The female is green but much less dramatically coloured. The cap and face are olive brown, with the throat and upper breast dull green which merges to turquoise on the belly and is fringed with salmon pink. The underwing has a broad pale yellow underwing stripe.

Habitat and distribution

The golden-shouldered parrot was once found over most of Cape York Peninsula, but is now restricted to two populations on Cape York Peninsula, covering less than 2000km2. The species only occurs in the southern and central Cape York Peninsula, and 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, areas of Aboriginal owned land and the protected estate (National Park). The golden-shouldered parrot has historically been recorded in Holroyd Nature Refuge, KULLA (McIlwraith Range) National Park (CYPAL), Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL), Oyala Thumotang National Park (CYPAL), but is today only found in and around Artemis Antbed Nature Refuge, Alwal National Park (CYPAL) and Staaten River National Park.

The golden-shouldered parrot has a strong preference for tropical savanna woodland and the choice of habitat throughout the year appears to be based on the grass seed availability.

Table 1 shows the different types of habitat used by the parrot at different times of the year 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 behaviour

Golden-shouldered parrots are characteristically found in pairs or family groups of three to eight birds and spend much of their time on the ground feeding on the seeds of annual and perennial grasses, particularly fire grass (Schizachyrium spp.). The golden-shouldered parrot shows a preference for open habitats created by dry season fires and spend many months feeding in small areas where seeds are abundant. As the dry season progresses and feeding areas become depleted, the parrots become more mobile looking for other areas of higher seed abundance. A shortage of food occurs annually early 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 and several days of continuous heavy rain can result in starvation as they are unable to meet their daily 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 slow growing and 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 their food resources are plentiful. Females lay on average five to six eggs, which hatch after approximately three weeks, with the majority of birds fully fledged in five weeks. The main reason for nest failure is predation by goannas Varanus spp. And the pied butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis.

Threatening processes

There are multiple threatening processes which interact to have different impacts on the golden-shouldered parrot. Predation by pied butcherbirds, goannas and feral cats, Felis catus, pose an immediate threat to adult birds and fledglings. The annual food shortage in the early wet season can result in the starvation of birds and exacerbates predation levels on adults as they spend more time looking for food. These threats are also influenced by the introduction of cattle grazing and changed fire regimes. Cattle grazing reduces the seed production of wet season grasses ad also reduces the fuel load. While the changed fire regime results in increased woody plants, particularly broad-leaved tea-tree Melaleuca viridifolia, which increases the predation levels on the golden-shouldered parrot. Changed fire regimes also alter the availability of grass seed throughout the landscape, particular at the end of the wet season. Feral pigs also cause damage to termite mounds, reducing their growth rates and limiting future nesting possibilities and also uprooting wet season grasses reducing food availability at critical times.

Recovery actions

A recovery plan for the golden-shouldered parrot has been developed along with management guidelines. This recovery plan is currently being updated to reflect the latest research, threats and management actions.

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

Findings from surveys and monitoring have contributed to the understanding of threatening processes affecting the parrot, with appropriate land management being essential to the recovery of the golden-shouldered parrot.

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.)

Changes to conservation classes in Queensland

On 22 August 2020, changes were made to Queensland’s threatened species conservation classes. The classifications and species listings on this website are currently being reviewed, and updated where required, to align with these new classes.