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Rarest of the Rare Australian Birds at Moonlit Sanctuary

Home > Melbourne > Animals and Wildlife | Family | Outdoor | Zoos
by Debbie Lustig (subscribe)
My work has been published in The Age, The Herald-Sun, The Australian, The Big Issue, Australian Birdlife, The Bark (USA), Eureka Street, Overland and The Australian Jewish News.
Published December 23rd 2013
See them before they disappear
It's multi-coloured, it's gorgeous and it's going extinct. What's not to love about the Orange-bellied Parrot?

Orange-bellied Parrot in the wild
Orange-bellied Parrot in the wild, image © Dean Ingwersen

The Regent Honeyeater is a bold black-and-yellow bird with a scallop-patterned breast and back.

birds, Australian birds, critically endangered birds, threatened species, conservation
Regent Honeyeater Image © Chris Tzaros

The Bush Stone-curlew is a big, bug-eyed bird with a mournful call.

australian birds, threatened species, conservation, breeding birds, wildlife sanctuary
Bush Stone-curlew. Image: © Debbie Lustig

This trio of some of our rarest birds has found a home at Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park, near the shores of Westernport Bay, Pearcedale. The area was once frequented by the Orange-bellied Parrot, until it was cleared for housing, agriculture and industrial developments.

Michael Johnson and staff have created a mini-saltmarsh in the Orange-bellied Parrot aviary, growing some of the birds' favourite food plants. You can get close (as you never would in the wild) and watch them feeding, flying, fluffing up their feathers or calling their unusual, buzzy, metallic call.

You'll never forget the first time you see an Orange-bellied Parrot (or 'OBP') - they evoke strong emotions in almost everyone. With fewer than 50 in the wild, they're vulnerable, beautiful and unbelievably rare.

This display is one of only two in Victoria housing OBPs - the other being at Healesville Sanctuary. Moonlit Sanctuary is also breeding Orange-bellied Parrots, as part of a national effort to produce an 'insurance' population. Those younger, breeding birds are so precious, visitors are not allowed.

rare, endangered, birds, australian birds, endangered birds, conservation, threatened species, australian wildlife, critically endangered birds
Regent Honeyeater. Image © Rick Hammond

Not far away, another two threatened birds are on view. Regent Honeyeaters, with around 1500 left in the wild, are critically endangered in Victoria. Their forest habitat has been carved up and the flowering eucalypts they feed on are becoming scarcer.

australian birds, threatened species, conservation, breeding birds, wildlife sanctuary
Bush Stone-curlew Image: Norman Chaffer Estate © Australian Museum

Bush Stone-Curlews have been successfully breeding at Moonlit Sanctuary. Standing around half a metre tall, they're well-camouflaged with brown and white plumage and tend to freeze when disturbed. Their call is one of the spookiest sounds in the Australian bush.

Moonlit Sanctuary is an Eco Tourism Australia-certified business, meaning it meets high standards of resource management and conservation of the environment. Its keepers and guides are exemplary.

Since its founding in 1998, it has bred a number of other rare or endangered species, including the Southern Bettong, Eastern Quoll and Squirrel Glider. Marsupials the Eastern Quoll and Southern Bettong are now extinct on the Australian mainland and can only be found in the wild in Tasmania.

Although small in area, there's plenty to see at Moonlit Sanctuary. Allow at least three hours, with special koala petting and python encounters available. Free keeper talks on the dingo, koala and Tasmanian devil are held at various times through the day.

At night, conducted tours take in nocturnal mammals and birds such as Tawny Frogmouths, bettongs, owls and gliders. Bookings must be made for these.

australian birds, threatened species, conservation, breeding birds, wildlife sanctuary, orange bellied parrot, captive breeding
Orange-bellied Parrots, Moonlit Sanctuary. Image: © Debbie Lustig

Australia's birds are facing big challenges and, with our growing population and the growing threat of climate change, will certainly face more. Don't just read about our critically endangered bird species. Go and see some at Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park.
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Why? Because threatened birds are awesome
When: Daily, night tours by appointment
Phone: 5978-7935
Where: Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park
Cost: $8.50-$17; family of four $45; evening tour $15-40
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