Orange-Bellied Parrot

Orange-Bellied Parrots Janet de Morgan

Our tiny plane flew down the south coast of Tasmania to Maleleuka; next stop Antarctica. Deny King, mined tin there for years and his daily journal is now an important resource to ornithologists. He kept track of the annual population of the Orange-Bellied Parrots and called attention to their diminishing numbers.

Orange-Bellied Parrots nest in holes in the Maleleukan dunes and beaches eating seeds of endemic plants. For years the area was visited only by boaters and hikers but after the birth of Deny’s first daughter, he constructed a tiny airstrip for emergencies. The increase in tourists, miners and scientists who use the airstrip now contribute to the decline of the parrot population. International organizations are working to protect the breeding grounds at Maleleuka as well as their wintering area around Melbourne.

Maleleuka Landscape

Maleleuka has no town and the permanent population has dwindled to two. After landing on the windy airstrip we walked directly to a nearby bird blind, a roomy hut with big glass windows. Fifteen feet away stood the little feeding platform constructed by researchers who have banded all the birds. We were lucky. Six grassy-green parrots with violet-blue edges to their wings picked at seed put out by the researchers who are studying them. To prevent the seeds from blowing away in the stiff breeze, they placed a rubber doormat on the platfrom that holds the seed. Occasionally, one of the small birds stopped to pull itself upright and scan the bushes. For a brief moment we saw the yellow hued underbelly and, just in front of the legs, the disk of bright orange that gives this parrot its name.

Imagine watching these busy birds, knowing they were about 15% of the surviving population. Only an estimated forty breeding pairs exist in the world. Information like that is so mind-boggling, I just don’t know what to do with it. There they are and here I am watching them, one of very few people who will ever see them.

Deny King

Dragging ourselves away from these little miracles, we explored the homestead. Deny King grew up in a remote area where he learned to be self-sufficient and gave him the confidence to tackle anything. Nothing was wasted and every problem was eventually solved with materials on hand. After military service, Deny joined his father and the handful of tin miners in Maleleuka. This southern most piece of land lies in the Roaring Forties, referring to the degrees of latitude, where legendary winds sank many sailing ships attempting to round the southern capes, a land hostile to all but the most determined. I imagine myself in such a situation when I read of others who have succeeded. The daring. The creativity. Then I think, maybe for a little while. Or not.

Deny’s bush-protected Quonset hut faces the mountains to the north and is filled with items from a rich life of work, reading, journaling, playing music, tinkering, gardening and befriending the wildlife. A note next to the door reminds visitors to be careful not to trap his pet house sparrow inside when they leave.

As our plane took off again, I felt grateful to a curious man who loved the company of his birds.