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Paradise parrot

Common name: paradise parrot

Scientific name: Psephotus pulcherrimus

Family: Psittacidae (parrots)

Conservation status: The paradise parrot is listed as Extinct in the wild in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and as Extinct nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).

Description

With the scientific name Psephotus pulcherrimus (pulcherrimus meaning ‘most beautiful’), the paradise parrot was aptly named. It was a long-tailed, slender parrot about 27–30 cm long. Both the male and the female had bright red shoulder patches on dark brown wings, a turquoise rump and a long, thin bronze-green tail. The plainer female had a light orange-brown face and throat turning pale blue on the chest and belly. In the male, the forehead and area under the tail were red and the turquoise blue on the rump extended around to the belly and continued upward in front of the wing where it blended into the light yellow-green of the parrot’s face and chest. The head was capped with dark brown and had yellow feathers around the eye.

Habitat and former distribution

The last time this bird was seen was in 1927, with a sighting in the Burnett River area in Queensland and another claimed at Inverell in New South Wales. There has not been a confirmed sighting of the paradise parrot for more than seventy years.

Paradise parrots lived in open eucalypt woodland and open forest with a grassy understorey. The presence of termite mounds for nest sites was also an important habitat requirement.

Its distribution once extended from Rockhampton, central Queensland to south-east Queensland and, based on some accounts, south to Inverell in far northern New South Wales (Garnett and Crowley 2000).

Life history and behaviour

The paradise parrot was active by day and spent considerable time on the ground feeding on grass. Alec Chisholm observed a pair of parrots feeding in 1922 and provided the following description: “The method of feeding was to seize a grass-stem bent near its base and run it through the bill until the seed was reached. In odd cases the grass-stem was thick; then the bird would climb on and bend it down with its weight” (Chisholm, 1929).

The paradise parrot was believed to occur in pairs or small flocks (possibly family groups).

They nested in termite mounds, digging a 20–30 cm long tunnel, ending in a 40 cm deep nesting chamber. There were also some reports of paradise parrots nesting in cavities excavated in creek banks. Very few nests have ever been examined and little is known of the time taken to incubate the eggs or how long it took for young parrots to develop. Females were known to lay up to five eggs (three on average). Breeding was recorded between August and April.

Few details exist of the bird’s calls. The only contact note recorded is a sweet, plaintive tit-sweet and a short, sharp, musical queek in alarm.

In The Birds of Australia, Mathews (1916-1917) wrote, “It is a matter for deep regret, that this most beautiful of parrots appears to have become extinct without any lasting record of its life-history being made known."

Reasons for extinction

Land clearing, grazing by sheep and cattle, and changed patterns of burning all contributed to the destruction of the paradise parrot’s habitat and, in particular, the reduction in the availability of native grass seeds. The use of crushed termite mounds to construct ‘antbed’ tennis court surfaces in the early 1900s very likely destroyed nests and diminished opportunities for breeding. Trapping for aviaries, egg collection, the spread of prickly pear and the occurrence of a series of droughts were also factors that are likely to have contributed to the extinction of this species. Predation by cats and foxes may have hastened the bird’s demise.

Is it lost?

Alec Chisholm, a noted conservationist and journalist with the Daily Mail (now The Courier Mail) initiated a search for the paradise parrot in 1916 by placing articles in Brisbane and country newspapers titled “Is it lost?”. It took five years before Chisholm had a chance to see his only pair of paradise parrots in the southern Burnett River district. Unfortunately there were only a few more confirmed sightings of these parrots, with the last in 1927.

To this day, sightings are still occasionally claimed, although none has yet been verified. Any such records of birds or suspected nest mounds, particularly within the former distribution and range of habitats occupied by the paradise parrot, should be reported to the Queensland government Wildnet Team at  

Related information

Chisholm AH 1929. Birds and Green Places. J.M. Dent and Sons Pty. Ltd., London.

Chisholm AH 1961. The last of the paradise parrots, in Terres, JK (ed.). Discovery. Great Moments in the Lives of Outstanding Naturalists. Lippincott, Philadelphia.

Garnett ST, Szabo JK and Dutson G 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia.

Kiernan C 1993. Paradise on earth? Wingspan 11: 24-25.

Mathews GM 1916-1917. The Birds of Australia, Volume VI. Witherby and Co., London.

Olsen P 2007. Glimpses of Paradise: The Quest for the Beautiful Parakeet. National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Zillmann E 2013. Recollections of the last known authentic sightings of the Paradise Parrot. Australian Field Ornithology 30:3, 166-168.

Last updated
1 August 2017