'They Only Come Out At Night': Secret Reserve Pullen Pullen Created For Previously Thought-To-Be-Extinct Night Parrot

18/04/2016 12:15 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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In bird-watching circles, it was the event of the decade: a Queensland bird enthusiast promised to show a photo of the seemingly extinct Night Parrot.

This parrot is so rare, it had never been photographed alive. Ever. What's more, since 1979, it was largely thought to be extinct save for a few roadkill discoveries and presumed sightings.

But here was birdo John Young in a packed out suburban hall promising to talk about the years he spent painstakingly searching for evidence of these nocturnal ground-dwelling budgie lookalikes.

When he got to the part of the story where he heard them call into the night for the first time, conservationist John Dengate* said the hall was entirely silent.

"It was like someone telling you they'd found a dinosaur," Dengate said.

"Everyone who was there thought they wouldn't see a Night Parrot in all their lifetime and here's someone saying they've got a recording of their call."

But there was a catch: Young refused to say where exactly he found the birds, considering a rare parrot could well become a poacher's prize.

night parrot pullen extinct western queensland

A Night Parrot in spinifex. Picture: Steve Murphy / Fairfax Media

Now three years later, conservation group Bush Heritage Australia has created a sanctuary for the parrots named Pullen Pullen reserve in the same spot Young originally discovered them.

And no, Bush Heritage won't tell anyone where it is either.

Night Parrot Sightings

1912 -- A dead specimen is collected in Western Australia

2007 -- A dead bird is found on the side of the Albany Highway, Western Australia.

2008 -- A dead female is found in Diamantina National Park, Queensland.

2013 -- Young announces his discovery of a colony of night parrots.

2015 -- Ornithologist Steve Murphy captures and radio tags a parrot. Birdlife Magazine editor Sean Dooley at the time described it as the birdwatcher's equivalent of "finding Elvis flipping burgers in an outback roadhouse"

2016 -- Bush Heritage Australia declares Pullen Pullen reserve.

The reserve is a 56,000-hectare property, transferred from a pastoralist to Bush Heritage Australia.

Executive manager north Rob Murphy said the reserve would protect the parrots from feral animals including cats as well as wildfire and grazing pressure from cattle and kangaroos.

"Sanctuary at Pullen Pullen Reserve is critical for this special bird that still could be lost forever if we don’t work together for the long term to protect it," Murphy said.

They'll also be testing a new feral cat measure called a grooming trap designed to catch cats but not other small native mammals.

As for humans, they're installing satellite cameras to catch potential poachers.

*John Dengate is the reporter's father. He's also a conservationist.

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