[order] PSITTACIFORMES | [family] Psittacidae | [latin] Psephotus chrysopterygius | [authority] Gould, 1858 | [UK] Golden-shouldered Parrot | [FR] Perruche a aile d’or | [DE] Goldschulter-Sittich | [ES] Perico Aligualdo | [NL] Geelschouderparkiet | [copyright picture] Birdlife
Even among Australia?s spectacular parrots those of the genus Psephotus stand out for their beauty. Of the four species three live in Queensland, one being endemic, while one is confined to the Northern Territory. A fifth species became extinct in the 1920s. The Psephotus parrots are groundforaging seed-eaters. They have long tails and small bills and display sexual dimorphism, the females having duller plumage. There are two subgroups. The first contains the Red-rumped Parrot (Psephotus haematonotus), and the Mulga Parrot (P. varius). The Mulga Parrot is less common and more confined to the interior, though occurring in all mainland states except Victoria. The nest of these birds is usually in a tree hollow. The other subgroup comprises the Hooded Parrot (P. dissimilis), which is confined to Northern Territory, and the Golden-shouldered Parrot (P. chrisopterygius) of northern Queensland. These birds nest in termite mounds, as did their sister species the Paradise Parrot (P. pulcherrimus) of southern Queensland and northern NSW, which was last recorded in 1927.
Slender parrot. Adult male predominantly turquoise with black cap and pale yellow frontal band, and salmon-pink lower belly, vent thighs and undertail-coverts, conspicuously scaled off-white. Grey-brown saddle and upper wing with diagnostic, bright yellow shoulder-band. Adult female predominantly dull greenish-yellow, broad cream bar on underwing, prominent in flight. Juvenile similar to adult female, best distinguished at fledging by orange bill and cere.
Australasia : North Australia. Psephotus chrysopterygius is endemic to southern and central Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia.
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.
It nests in termite mounds in grassy areas within savanna woodland. After breeding, it disperses through open woodland, feeding on super-abundant seeds of fire grass Schizachyrium spp. After the first wet-season rains, it switches foods continually. 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. Because 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. The eggs 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. Both sexes of the Golden-shouldered Parrot are capable of breeding in their first year, although most males do not begin breeding until their second year.
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.). 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.
Video Golden-shouldered Parrot
copyright: Greg R Homel
This species is listed as Endangered as it has a very small, decreasing range, within which changes in the burning regime and the introduction of cattle to the region have resulted in a long-term population decline, which is continuing despite intensive conservation efforts.
The continuing range contraction is caused by a change in fire regime, with fewer hot burns, and the arrival of cattle and feral pigs, which reduce the fuel available for burning, the availability of some wet-season foods and the availability of nest mounds. This combination has resulted in the invasion of grassland by woodland throughout the species’s former range. The increase in woody vegetation may have favoured predators, principally Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis, while grazing may have extended the period during which birds feed on the ground, making them more vulnerable to predation. Predation of adults is a major cause of nest failure, with almost one third of nests losing one or more adults.
The Golden-shouldered Parrot is considered to be sedentary, with no large-scale seasonal movements reported. Individuals do however, make short-distance movements into different habitats in the wet and dry seasons. During the wet season (non-breeding) the Golden-sholdered Parrot is often found in association with Black-faced Woodswallows.