Swift Parrot

​​​​​​​​​​​​The swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) is a small (60-80g) fast-flying, migratory parrot that occurs in eucalypt forests in south-eastern Australia. 

The swift parrot is a bright green colour, with patches of red on the throat, chin, face and forehead which are bordered by yellow. It also has red on the shoulder and under the wings and blue on the crown, cheeks, and wings. Streamlined for fast flight, the swift parrot has angular pointed wings and a long-pointed purple-red tail.


Swift Parrot in Leaves

Swift parrot in flowering blue gum
Photo: Dave James

Distribu​tion

The swift parrot is one of only two true migratory parrots in the world, and like the orange-bellied parrot, the species breeds in Tasmania in the summer months, then migrates north to overwinter on mainland Australia. 

The swift parrot is known to breed mostly in the east and the south-east of Tasmania, and some breeding has been recorded on the northwest and west coast of Tasmania, and on Flinders Island.

Swift parrots nest in hollows of both living and dead eucalypt trees, nesting in close proximity to foraging resources such as flowering blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and/or black gum (E. ovata). Swift parrots reuse nesting sites and individual nest hollows but not necessarily in successive years, with the distribution and intensity of blue gum and/or black gum flowering dictating whether an area is used for breeding on a year- to- year basis. Flowering patterns of other eucalypt species, including Brooker's gum (E. brookeriana), can be an important local food resource and can also determine and affect swift parrot breeding distribution. In locations with quality nesting and foraging habitats, it is common to find more than one pair nesting close to each other.

Birds return to Tasmania from mainland Australia in early August, with the breeding season occurring from September to January, and into February in some years and locations. Swift parrots lay up to six eggs and produce on average three fledglings. Reproductive success is linked to the quality and quantity of the nectar produced by the blue and/or black gum flowering, and the proximity of sugar gliders.

Non-breeding habitat occurs throughout Tasmania, including forests in the north and north-west, where birds have been observed feeding on the nectar of a range of flowering eucalypt species, fruiting trees and on insect lerps (crystallised honeydew produced by insect larvae).

After the breeding season, in February and March, the population flies north, dispersing throughout Victoria, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and at times as far as southern Queensland and South Australia. There is evidence to suggest in some years some birds don't migrate. On the Australian mainland the birds are semi-nomadic, often flying in flocks.

Swift Parrot

Swift Parrot in flowering gum
Photo: Dave James

Status

The swift parrot has the highest threatened species status provided for in both Tasmanian and Commonwealth legislation, listed as endangered under Tasmania's Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (TSP Act) and Critically Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).  

Swift parrots are very difficult to monitor due to their migratory nature and varied habitat use from year to year. However, the current consensus among experts is that there may be as few as 750 (within a plausible range of 300 to 1 000) mature individuals, with a declining population trend.

Why is the swift parrot threatened?

There are several historic and ongoing threats to swift parrots. Since European settlement, breeding and foraging habitat loss and degradation has occurred across the species' Tasmanian and mainland Australian range from tree clearing for agriculture, urban development and timber harvesting, illegal firewood collection and wildfire. 

Other threats to the swift parrot include: nest competition and/or predation by the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps, more recently described as Krefft's glider P. notatus); competition for nest and foraging resources from European honeybees (Apis mellifera) and native and non-native birds; climate change effects including variable rainfall patterns that impact on nest success and variability of flowering, and increased frequency and intensity of wildfires. Importantly, these threats may interact with one another, and the repeated and/or cumulative impact of these threats is likely to be greater than the effect of any one threat in isolation.

The many threats facing swift parrots throughout their distribution requires coordinated action across jurisdictions, landscapes and stakeholders.

Swift Parrot Habitat - Tree Trunk

Swift parrot habitat in the Southern Forests, Tasmania
Photo: Natural Resources and Environment​

​​What is being done to help the swift parrot?​

The Tasmanian Government recognises the threats that the swift parrot faces throughout its migratory range and are committed to continue working collaboratively to protect this critically endangered species through coordinated and adaptive approaches.

A range of swift parrot conservation actions are ongoing within NRE Tas and the Department of State Growth (DSG). These include:

  • ​Finalisation of a Listing Statement to support detailed conservation planning and management.
  • Active participation and leadership on the National Swift Parrot Recovery Team, including supporting the development, endorsement and implementation of the revised Recovery Plan.
  • Provision of consistent advice and (where applicable) regulatory assessments for activities that affect swift parrots and their habitat, including forestry management, developments, planned burns and illegal harvesting of firewood.

Two new swift parrot conservation management projects have been initiated by NRE Tas in 2022. 

The four-year NRE Tas Swift Parrot Recovery Project​ is the result of a $1 million Tasmanian Government funding commitment, implementing a range of swift parrot conservation management activities in addition to the actions listed above.

Following a Machinery of Government change, the now DSG led Swift Parrot Forestry Management Project  is reviewing the effectiveness of the current swift parrot habitat management approach within wood production areas to identify if, and how, the current approach can be improved. 

​This project includes:

  • An evaluation of the effectiveness and performance (environmental, social, and economic) of the current management approach under the forest practices system.
  • The development of new potential options for swift parrot habitat management in wood production areas, and an evaluation of the effectiveness and performance (environmental, social and economic) of these options.
The independent regulator, the Forest Practices Authority, is a key stakeholder in this project. The development of any new management prescriptions for the swift parrot between NRE Tas, DSG, and the FPA, as an outcome of the project, will be through the processes outlined in the Procedures for the management o​f threatened species​ under the Forest Practices System, 2014. Section 3.3).

Contact

Threatened Species Section - Enquiries

GPO Box 44,
HOBART, TAS, 7001.