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Some bellies are more important than others

December 20, 2023
By Geoff Brooks, Biosphere Foundation Board Director


Take it from me, there are bellies you’d like to get rid of and there are those worth preserving. Both require a lot of willpower and effort and, to date, the Biosphere Foundation’s efforts to support the Orange Bellied Parrot program at Moonlit Sanctuary are way ahead of my other schedule.

Both efforts are consequential for our Biosphere, but progress on restoration of the threatened Orange Bellied Parrot population is considerably outweighing the effort for reduced consumption of some of the excellent produce from our farmers and vignerons.

Enough of the frivolity, let’s set Project B(elly) to one side, pour a glass of pinot and ponder the extension of our support for the critically endangered Orange Bellied Parrot.


It is one of only three migratory parrots in the world. Breeding in south-west Tasmania during spring and summer, Orange Bellied Parrots migrate to the southeast coast of mainland Australia, where they spend the autumn and winter in Victoria and South Australia.

Numbers of Orange-bellied Parrots have declined from perhaps several thousand in the late 1800s. Threats to the species include past and ongoing loss and degradation of habitat (including non-breeding habitat), loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding, stochastic environmental events, and predators and competitors.^ Principally a ground feeder, the parrot eats seeds, fruits, flowers and berries.

According to our partners at Moonlit Sanctuary, the wild population numbered less that 20 adults at the start of the 2017/18 breeding season. Thanks to breeding programs, including Moonlit’s, the returning population reached 70 individuals at the start of the 2021/22 breeding season, with optimism that this would result in about 140 parrots returning to the mainland.

The Biosphere Foundation has supported Moonlit’s program with two tranches of funding, the first courtesy of the Federal Government’s just-concluded Environmental Restoration Fund (ERF) and the second enabled by our public donations.

The first provided monitoring equipment to help understand the relationship between the temperature in parrot nesting boxes at Moonlit Sanctuary and successful breeding and fledgling nurture.

The second advances this foundation work, assisting Moonlit to purchase cameras to not only record temperature, but also visually record the behaviours and any other influences that maybe contributing to inconsistent fledging duration.

Normally, the Orange Bellied Parrot breeds mainly within southwest Tasmania’s Melaleuca region. Birds typically begin to arrive at Melaleuca in late September. Nests are occupied from mid-November, with nesting occurring in artificial nest boxes or, where available, hollows of eucalypt trees (typically Eucalyptus nitida).

Pairs do not mate for life. The female stays in the nest for several days before the first egg is laid and clutches average 4.6 eggs (range 1–6). Only the female incubates the eggs during the 21-day incubation period. After hatching, the female remains on the nest for 10 days, being fed by the male.

After the 10-day brood period, the chicks are fed by both parents before fledging at four to five weeks of age. Fledglings are fed by both parents until the adults depart on the northern migration in February–March. The fledglings typically depart between March and April. Juveniles are also individually colour banded (using leg bands) from nest boxes each year which forms the basis of population studies.*

Moonlit Sanctuary is one of several facilities running programs to ensure the Orange Bellied Parrot can be brought back from the brink. However, the Moonlit team is also gaining important insights into the role that saltmarsh habitat, which abounds in the Biosphere Reserve, can play in the bird’s survival.

This could provide valuable insight into the importance of saltmarsh preservation, which our Foundation is evaluating as part of the major blue carbon assessment and works undertaken with support of the Victorian Government and the Bunurong Land Council’s environment team.

It highlights the importance of on-going public donations to the Foundation and how their impact can be amplified as knowledge from a single project feeds into the wider matrix of work to preserve our Biosphere Reserve for future generations.

As for dealing with that other belly, the less public donations the better!





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