February 2012

Flight of Fancy

I saw a bird this morning and tried to find out what it was. I looked at the Australian birds on the internet and in my books but cannot find this bird in there anywhere. Could you please tell me what this bird is and why it isn’t in the books? Is it a new species?

Answer

The bird you have found is a Moustached Parakeet, Psittacula alexandri. This species is not native to Australia which is why it would not have appeared in the books you looked through. The most likely explanation for why this bird is in your backyard is that it is an escaped pet or aviary bird. Every now and then there can be genuine “vagrants” to the Australian mainland from other countries but most of the time if you see an exotic bird there is a good chance you are looking at an escapee.

Moustached Parakeet Psittacula alexandri.

These “escapees” nearly always cause confusion wherever they are found as they look so different from the local birdlife. Common escapees encountered in the Brisbane area include the Indian Ringneck, Helmeted Guineafowl and Indian Peafowl (Peacocks). These are just some of the many exotic species owned. The main types of birds kept by aviary breeders in Australia are waterfowl, wildfowl, parrots, pigeons and finches.

Australian native species are also kept as aviary birds and these too can escape. These birds have not been captured from the wild, rather bred from birds caught years ago. Often when we get inquiries about a native bird that is way out of range or very rare, the bird is an escapee. Gouldian finches are good example of this.

Superb Parrot Polytelis swainsonii
Photos: Katie Hiller

The best way to determine if the bird you are looking at is an escapee is to refer to an Australian bird book. These books are regularly updated and include all the known species of bird in Australia (even the vagrants). If the bird you have found doesn’t closely match any of the species in the book, there is a good chance you have encountered an escapee. If the bird is in the book but is said to be rare or occurs naturally in an area far from where you saw it the chances of it being an escapee are also high. The Superb Parrot, Polytelis swainsonii, depicted here was spotted in a suburban garden in Brisbane – a long way from its normal range in NSW and northern Victoria, so it can be presumed to have escaped from a local aviary.

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