Coxen's Fig-Parrot - A Bird on the Edge

By Dr Ian Gynther of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Southern Region©

There are few, if any, Australian birds in the same state of peril as Coxen's Fig-Parrot. It is listed as endangered in the two States (Queensland and New South Wales) in which it occurs and also under Commonwealth legislation. However, in glaring contrast to other well known and well publicised endangered species in this country such as the Regent Honeyeater, Helmeted Honeyeater and Orange-bellied Parrot, nowhere can Coxen's Fig-Parrot be reliably located in the wild, information about its ecology and breeding biology is scant and no individuals are known to exist in captivity to offer prospects of a captive breeding program. In fact, the bird is so poorly known that it has never been photographed and its nest has not been described.

Yet Coxen's Fig-Parrot still occurs in at least parts of its former range. This much we know from brief but unmistakable glimpses of individuals flying overhead, together with a number of highly credible, recent sighting reports from localities in both States. Nevertheless, no population estimates exist. Therein lies the immense challenge for the recovery team established in 1993 to reverse the bird's decline towards oblivion.

Distribution and Habitat

A subspecies of the Double-eyed Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma, Coxen's Fig-Parrot occurs east of the Great Dividing Range from just south of Gladstone in Queensland to the Port Macquarie hinterland of New South Wales. The classic image of its preferred habitat is rainforest, particularly the coastal lowland rainforests that once carpeted large expanses of the alluvial valleys of this part of Australia. With the disappearance of most of this habitat type by the 1920s through logging and agricultural clearing, it is presumed the population of Coxen's Fig-Parrot suffered a corresponding decline, with remaining birds being forced to retreat to the higher altitude rainforests of the foothills and ranges. The lack of year-round fruit resources, particularly figs, in these higher altitude forests compounded the parrot's woes. Presumably the birds must still return to the lowlands in the winter, the only place where fig trees reliably produce fruit during the colder months. Here, the ongoing clearing and fragmentation of what little habitat remains must be placing additional strains on an already severely depleted population.

Recent observations indicate the habitat tolerance of Coxen's Fig-Parrot may be broader than simply rainforest. It now seems likely these birds occur wherever there is an abundance of fruiting figs. Such places include isolated trees in cleared paddocks, parks, gardens, open forest behind coastal dunes, and strips of vegetation along rivers and creeks. Some riparian situations in eucalypt woodland are surprisingly dry environments for what was thought to be a rainforest parrot.

Food

So just what does this bird eat? Apparently figs, figs and more figs, with a few other things thrown in. Known food species include Moreton Bay Fig Ficus macrophylla, Green-leaved Strangling Fig F. watkinsiana, Rock or Rusty Fig F. platypoda, Small-leaved Moreton Bay Fig F. obliqua, Deciduous Fig F. superba, White Fig F. virens and Cluster Fig F. racemosa, as well as the smaller sandpaper figs F. coronata, F. fraseri and F. opposita. Other food types such as lilly pillies and certain exotic fruits have been documented too.

Curiously, the birds do not eat the flesh of the fig, but only the seeds. The flesh is nibbled away and discarded, falling to the ground in fragments - a characteristic sign of fig-parrot feeding activity. The sound of such pieces dropping through the leaves to the forest floor is one way the presence of these cryptic birds may be detected.

Identification Pointers

Coxen's Fig-Parrot is a small (about 16 cm long), plump, predominantly green parrot with an overly large head and bill and an extremely short tail, a combination of characters that make it resemble a Peach-faced Lovebird. Unlike these familiar cage birds, though, the fig-parrot has a distinctive facial pattern of a blue forehead and large orange-red cheek patches bordered below by a mauve-blue band. The wing tips are bright blue, the flanks yellow and the bill two-toned light and dark grey. The heavy body build and short tail are very noticeable in flight and readily distinguish Coxen's Fig-Parrot from the species with which it is most likely to be confused, the Little, Scaly-breasted and Musk Lorikeets. Like fig-parrots, these lorikeets are fast flying and mostly green, but they are all more streamlined with longer, pointed tails. Furthermore, lorikeets often form large noisy flocks and feed on blossoms of trees such as eucalypts and melaleucas, seldom being observed in fig trees. Coxen's Fig-Parrot usually occurs singly or in pairs and is frequently inconspicuous. Those people lucky enough to have seen them often remark on the difficulty of locating the birds amongst clumps of foliage

Fig-parrots utter high-pitched, clipped, two or three note zzzt-zzzt or zeet-zeet calls, unlike the rolling or trilling screeches typical of lorikeets. These calls are mostly made in flight, but sometimes when perched. When engrossed in feeding, fig-parrots may also make a variety of softer, chattering noises.

Recovery Program

As would be expected for a bird that is so poorly known and so thinly spread over such a wide area, a major focus of recovery efforts is to locate existing populations and identify critical habitat types. Regular surveys are carried out by members of the recovery team and volunteers. Only with such information can wise decisions about where to concentrate future revegetation and rehabilitation projects be made. In the meantime, as potential insurance, captive breeding techniques are being developed on one of the closely related north Queensland subspecies of Double-eyed Fig-Parrot at Currumbin Sanctuary.

What You Can Do

Report all sightings: One of the most important contributions that you can make is to look and listen out for Coxen's Fig-Parrot wherever you may be within the bird's range. Check all fruiting figs in particular. The more eyes and ears assisting the recovery team in the search for this elusive parrot the better the chance of success. All sightings - even old ones- are extremely valuable and may greatly assist the recovery program, but it is imperative that sighting information gets to a Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team member as soon as possible. If you see the birds or have details of past encounters with them, please phone me on (07) 3227 7055, O'Reilly's Rainforest Guesthouse on (07) 5544 0644 or Currumbin Sanctuary on (07) 5534 0813 IMMEDIATELY! Try to get someone else to verify the identification but do not attempt to capture or disturb the birds. Note as many details of their appearance, calls and behaviour as you can. Photographs or video recordings would not only be of immense benefit, they would be an all-time first!

Plant figs: One of the main threats to this parrot is loss of habitat and food resources. No matter where you live, you can help by planting fig trees native to your area (see list above). Remember that some of these grow into immense trees! Some of the smaller species, such as the sandpaper figs, grow rapidly and are quick to produce a fig crop. Given that several sightings of Coxen's Fig-Parrot have involved birds visiting 2-3 m high fig trees, don't be fooled into thinking that small trees have no value!

The recovery team has produced a colour brochure to provide some general information and help with identification of Coxen's Fig-Parrot.

If you would like to receive one, call (07) 3227 7055. Please help us to find and conserve this exquisite and enigmatic bird

Acknowledgment to:
Gynther, I. (1999) Coxen's Fig-Parrot - a bird on the edge. Land for Wildlife Southeast Queensland 3:12-13, June 1999.

The Story of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team
by Peter O'Reilly, O'Reilly's Rainforest Guesthouse, Green Mountains via Canungra, Q, 4275

Being responsible for saving Australia's rarest parrot from extinction is a burden of dire portent. The species has all but disappeared from the face of the planet, abandoning even its most favourite haunts. Since 1993 the Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team has faced up to its task with considerable enthusiasm despite being unable to catch more than a fleeting glimpse in thousands of hours of targeted searches. Depressing as that may be, there is a bounce in the step of team members as new techniques have helped us discover some missing pieces of the fig-parrot jigsaw.

To be charged with the responsibility of saving Australia's rarest bird from extinction, is surely a quest of Holy Grail proportions. Thousands of hours of targeted searches that fail to produce a single feather are not only demoralising, but lead only to scepticism and diminishing support. And then, to add insult to injury, there is the mockery. The jibes about the "Dead Parrot Society", and "Coxen's Fig-ment of the imagination Parrot."

Coxen's Fig-Parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni) is one of three sub-species of Double-eyed Fig-Parrot found in Australia. The others are Macleay's (C. d. macleayana) and Marshall's (C. d. marshalli) Fig-Parrots, both of which are found in tropical north Queensland. It has been proposed that Coxen's is a separate species, however, until we can obtain fresh material for DNA testing, their taxonomic status will remain a subject for conjecture. It is incongruous to many that taxonomy is of importance to species recovery, however full species status would greatly assist the team in increasing both government funding and search effort from the bird watching public.

Literature reviews indicate that Coxen's Fig-Parrot feeds predominantly on a variety of fig tree species and it is speculated that they exhibit altitudinal movements in response to the fruiting phenology of these species. Anecdotal evidence and studies of related subspecies' breeding habits, suggest nesting activity occurs between August and December and that relatively small home ranges are occupied during this time. Amazingly, over 130 years after coxeni was described by Gould, we still have no formal description of its nest and eggs.

The Recovery Team was formed in 1993 at the initiative of the Queensland Dept. of Environment and Heritage and, under the guidance of the Commonwealth Endangered Species Program, administered and funded by the then Australian Nature Conservation Agency (now Environment Australia). Other players have included The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, State Forests NSW, Queensland Museum, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Threatened Species Network, Currumbin Sanctuary, University of Queensland, Griffith University, and O'Reilly's Rainforest Guesthouse.

Initially we had a small number of significant problems. We couldn't find it. After a number of sightings through the mid-eighties the bird apparently disappeared off the face of the planet. The 1991 drought had a major impact on many dry rainforest areas, and this may have played a significant role. We had practically no knowledge of the ecology of the bird, other than that derived from its sibling subspecies.

The aforementioned factors are obviously functions of its rarity and we could only take educated guesses at the causal factors of this increasing rarity. It has always been assumed that the loss of lowland rainforest and the consequent lack of continuity in fig supply is the proximate cause of species decline, and in the absence of any data to the contrary that is still our belief. Thus reafforestation, particularly with fig species, is needed to reverse the process. The enormity of the task and the lead time into habitat restoration and eventual fruit production is demoralising, so our initial task is to buy time to safeguard coxeni until that threat has been removed.

Finally, security issues around the bird and any nest sites discovered, has always been a major concern. A pair of Coxen's Fig-Parrots is a name your price commodity in world avicultural circles. Egg collectors are another threat, as they like to tick the rarities just like twitchers do. Consequently sharing recently won information with the broader public in order to improve their search effort has contained risks that have been seen as largely unacceptable.

Despite the difficulties, these problems were overcome and species recovery plans were generated and the strategies therein implemented.

Worldwide experience has shown captive breeding programs to play an integral role in the recovery of species for which all but the most optimistic have given up hope. Consequently a captive-breeding program has always been seen as the only viable option to buy the time necessary to attempt habitat restoration. Currumbin Sanctuary have, for many years, been working with the Macleay's (Red-browed) Fig-Parrot perfecting dietary supplements, breeding techniques, swapping of eggs and young between breeding pairs, and generally marking the boundaries of what could be done safely if we were to obtain Coxen's eggs or chicks from the wild. So successful has Currumbin's work with the analogue species been, that the next step in their preparation is the release and radio tracking of captive bred birds. Successful completion of this project will augur well for the Coxen's captive breeding program should it be required.

Firstly we have to find the thing. In early times we contracted a very competent ornithologist to search the areas where fig-parrots had been known to frequent. Many hours were spent lying under fig trees staring up at the canopy, some 30 to 40 metres up, in a vain attempt to spot the tiny green bird. The very quiet habits of the species and an apparent preference to run along the branches rather than fly from fruit cluster to fruit cluster made this method a very unrewarding pastime. These early surveys suffered from the paucity of knowledge of the species and were based on some preconceived ideas on species distribution, ecology and habits. Consequently they were unsuccessful. It soon became apparent that the best way to increase the chances of locating this species was increased search effort through public help. We were being frustrated by reports of the bird filtering back to the recovery team months after the event and felt that immediate reports were necessary to give us a fighting chance.

A full colour brochure explaining the plight of the species and how to identify it was sponsored by Currumbin Sanctuary and distributed through the ornithological press. Numerous sighting reports, both old and new were generated because of this brochure. With records flowing in we had to set up a process of evaluating the credentials of each report and thus a sightings report form and a records appraisal committee complete with appraisal protocols were established. We are still working on developing a relational database to obtain maximum benefit from the information generated in this process. Macleay's Fig-Parrots involved in the captive-breeding program were also used in the field acting as caller birds to attract their southern cousins. First used in semi-permanent aviaries at known fig-parrots sites at O'Reilly's Plateau, more recent innovations involved temporarily raising small cages into the canopy of fig trees in northern NSW.

In 1996 recovery team action stepped up a gear. A naturalist experienced with all Australian subspecies of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and their nesting habits in the wild, was engaged to provide training to selected members of the Recovery Team in habitat recognition and nest search techniques. These training sessions involved intensive two weeks surveys of prime habitat in NSW and Queensland. Success was immediate with old nest sights providing information on the bird's nesting preferences, habits and ecology. There were also two close encounters with the species:- a call and a fleeting glimpse. Sure that's not much, but we were getting desperate!

Further developments with survey methods

Canopy level observations in high priority areas increases our chance of spotting birds and allows us to get a better assessment of their flight path from fed tree to nest. Grey Goshawks are seen as the most likely fig-parrot predator, leading us to the conclusion that goshawks may be better at finding them than we were. Nets were erected beneath Goshawk nests to catch and identify the rejected feathers, heads and feet. Unfortunately the goshawks ate more than they rejected so much of the evidence gathered was very second hand in nature and largely unidentifiable.

With our rapid increase in knowledge of the species it was time to reassess some of the earlier records, particularly those that had been rejected. The stuffed bird line up similar to a police line-up has been very fruitful, adding credibility to records where the observer was not a dedicated birdwatcher. Consequently, we have been able to expand the range of the bird both north and south by hundreds of kilometres.

Despite the enormous effort of a few dedicated individuals, we have still to find an active nest complete with birds. Increasing the search effort is viewed as the most likely manner in which this will be achieved, however funding and time are very limited resources. Subsequently volunteer community surveys have aimed to make a significant contribution by placing as many observers as possible into the field at the top priority sites. In NSW surveys have been conducted at Mebbin State Forest and Cambridge Plateau. In Queensland we felt the access and number of summer records in the Moore Park area north of Bundaberg made that area a top priority. While these surveys are yet to produce a fig-parrot, the publicity generated many more reports of earlier encounters. In the Moore Park Area the Bundaberg City Council have introduced vegetation protection orders specifically aimed at preserving fig-parrot habitat.

Other community awareness projects

More new improved brochures, targeted publicity, production of slide shows on the species and the recovery efforts, the Plant a fig tree campaign and the Coxen's Fig-Parrot T-shirt now available through selected outlets (NSW NPWS., QDEH., O'Reilly's, and Currumbin Sanctuary).

Despite considerable survey effort in the last few years, effective conservation action continues to be hampered by a lack of knowledge of the bird, its whereabouts and ecological requirements.

Acknowledgment to:
O'Reilly, P. (1999) The dead parrot society? The story of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team. In Boyes, B.R. (ed.) Rainforest Recovery for the New Millennium. Proceedings of the World Wide Fund for Nature 1998 South-East Queensland Rainforest Recovery Conference. WWF, Sydney.

THE ELUSIVE COXEN'S FIG-PARROT
By Liz Romer, Currumbin Sanctuary

The critically endangered Coxen's Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni is one of Australia's rarest and least known birds. One of the seven most endangered birds in Australia today, it is the only endangered parrot species in the country to occur in rainforests.

Coxen's Fig-Parrot an attractive, small predominantly green parrot with an extremely short tail, a disproportionately large head and bill , and red and blue facial markings. It is probably most similar in size and build to a Peachface Lovebird. It differs from the two other endemic Australian fig-parrot subspecies being the most southern in distribution, largest in size and having an almost entirely blue forehead.

The population decline of this attractive parrot was reported as far back as the early 1900s. Storr (1984) even considered it to be extinct as early as the turn of the century. Survey work conducted in 1985 and from 1987-89 located only a few individuals (Martindale 1986, Holmes 1990) while additional survey work from 1993-95 produced no records at all (Holmes 1995).

Historical records show that it was numerous in sub-tropical rainforests between the Mary River in south-east Queensland and the Richmond River in north-east New South Wales. Reports in recent decades suggest it can be found north to near Bundaberg, Queensland and south to the Port Macquarie hinterland in New South Wales (Holmes 1994, 1995). Unfortunately, the exact whereabouts of populations of this endangered subspecies remain uncertain although recent work to identify potential habitat in both Northern New South Wales and in the Bundaberg area has provided the basis for large scale and targeted search efforts.

The demise of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot is almost certainly related to widespread clearing of the lowland rainforests which were almost without exception decimated by the 1920s, with much of the prime fig-parrot habitat being lost through logging and agricultural clearing (Cayley 1938).

The primary diet of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot is the seeds of fig fruit, however a wide variety of additional food trees has been recorded (Holmes 1990). Although the nest and eggs remain formally undescribed, it is reported to nest in a similar manner to the other Australian fig-parrots in a hole excavated in a dead or decaying limb of a living or dead tree. It is thought to lay just two eggs

CONSERVATION MEASURES

As previously mentioned field survey work was carried out in 1985 and 1987-89. Funding for this was obtained from the RAOU (now Birds Australia), ANPWS (now Environment Australia) and Currumbin Sanctuary. Although a lot of information was gathered in relation to the bird, few actual sightings resulted.

In 1987 Currumbin Sanctuary started a captive colony of the analogous Red-browed Fig-Parrots in response to recommendations made by Martindale (1986) regarding the breeding of fig-parrots in captivity.

In 1993 a Recovery Team was formed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage (QDEH) . The team includes members from New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, QDEH, Currumbin Sanctuary, Threatened Species Network, State Forests of NSW, O'Reilly's Rainforest Guesthouse (Qld), Queensland Museum and Environment Australia.

In 1993-95 an additional field search was carried out. The primary technique adopted during the survey was scanning fruiting fig trees in the hope of locating fig-parrots feeding in the branches or flying from tree to tree. No birds were located over the three year period.

In 1994 a postgraduate student studied the seasonal pattern of fruiting by figs in both the lowland and upland rainforests of south-east Queensland. In 1996 habitat mapping of canopy height fig trees immediately surrounding the locations of the seven most plausible fig-parrot sighting records in NSW was carried out. Examination of Grey Goshawk prey remains has also been identified as a useful technique to locate populations of Coxen's Fig-Parrot because of the likelihood that this raptor predates upon this endangered bird. This approach has so far been unsuccessful. Further habitat identification was carried out in the Lismore area.

The year 1996 also saw the production of a brochure to raise awareness of the parrot, with confirmed sightings as a hopeful outcome. The brochure, sponsored by Currumbin Sanctuary, featured in a letter to the editor of PsittaScene that year. Ten thousand were produced and distributed to schools, natural history groups and various other organisations within the bird's range. A second updated brochure is currently in production. Because of the similarity in appearance between the Coxen's Fig-Parrot and three species of lorikeet (i.e. small, and green and fast flying!) the brochure had a focus on correct identification.

In August 1996 a new tactic was introduced in the search for the parrot. This involved surveying areas for evidence of current or past nesting as the nests are unique. Tantalising fresh evidence was turned up of the bird's presence but no actual sightings occurred.

In 1996 ,1997 and 1998 "decoy" birds have been positioned in areas of likely habitat in the hope they would call in Coxen's Fig-Parrots. It is thought the calls of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot and Red-browed Fig-Parrot are quite similar. The birds used were from Currumbin Sanctuary's captive Red-browed Fig-Parrots. Unfortunately the strategy was unsuccessful in attracting Coxen's Fig-Parrot individuals.

In 1997 further nest site searches were carried out. This time members of the research party had their first brief but rewarding glimpse of the bird that had been so elusive as two birds flew overhead in the Main Range National Park in Queensland. However, an active nest still remained to be discovered.

Shortly after this, the first community search in NSW was organised. Volunteers spent up to a week lying under fig trees looking for Coxen's Fig-Parrot. Although no birds were discovered it was successful in spreading the word about the parrot and its plight.

In March 1998 a similar survey was conducted in the Bundaberg area in the north of the bird's range. Although no new sightings were recorded, eighteen anecdotal sightings were obtained as a result of associated media coverage. The Bundaberg branch of the Bird Observers Club of Australia has responded with great enthusiasm. One result of this is a fridge flier being produced fordistribution to households in the area again in the hope of raising community awareness and securing a confirmed sighting. The fridge flier was produced by Currumbin Sanctuary, sponsored by the Parrot Society of Australia and distributed by the Bundaberg Bird Observers Club.

One recent initiative of the recovery team has been the production of shirts for sale to raise money and awareness for this parrot's recovery. The T-shirt features a painting by wildlife artist Sally Elmer. No known photos or videos exist of this bird! The painting is based on museum skins and information from field naturalist John Young. In order to raise awareness it features a tag with information on the subspecies. If interested in purchasing a shirt the artwork can be seen on the Currumbin Sanctuary website (http://www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au).

The recovery team is currently in the process of finalising the recovery plan for this subspecies. It is hoped it will be ready in the new year. Meanwhile a third nest survey conducted in September 1998 unearthed an old nest site at a new locality but again was unsuccessful in finding the holy grail of a pair at a current nest hole.

Captive Breeding Programme

Since 1987 Currumbin Sanctuary has been working on the analogous Red-browed Fig-Parrot C. d. macleayana. Fig-parrots have been notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, especially with respect to producing parent raised birds. The aim of this programme is to overcome these problems by establishing a successful protocol for the captive breeding of fig-parrots by parent raising. An additional aim is to develop techniques to maximise production. The information can then be applied if a decision is made to bring Coxen's Fig-Parrot into captivity as part of the recovery programme.

Over the past nine years up to seven pairs of fig-parrots have been set up for breeding. The success has been variable due in part to varying techniques and certain nest manipulations being trialled. To further our knowledge in this area we are planning a Fig-Parrot Husbandry and Breeding Workshop to be held on 22 and 23 June 1999 at Currumbin Sanctuary on the Gold Coast in Queensland. This is following on from the International "Birds 99" Convention being held in Brisbane, one hour's drive away from the Gold Coast, from 18-21 June 1999. We are inviting all people interested in the captive care of fig-parrots to attend and to contribute to the workshop. From the workshop we hope to produce a comprehensive husbandry manual for distribution. Interested people are requested to contact Liz Romer at Currumbin Sanctuary on - email or write to Currumbin Sanctuary, 28 Tomewin St, Currumbin, Queensland, Australia 4223 or phone +61 7 55250 197.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Dr Ian Gynther of the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage and fellow member of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team for the editing, comments and latest pieces of information.

Citation :
Romer, L. (1999) The elusive Coxen's Fig-Parrot. Psittacene 11(2): 14-15, May 1999.

References
Cayley, N.W. (1938) Australian Parrots: Their Habits in Field and Aviary. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Holmes, G. (1990) The Biology and Ecology of Coxen's Fig-Parrot. RAOU Report No.65 Holmes, G. (1994) Saving Coxen's Fig-Parrot. Wildlife Australia 31(2): 20-21
Holmes, G. (1995) Coxen's Fig Parrot Survey. A draft report to the Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team June 1995.
Martindale, J. (1986) A Review of Literature and the Results of a Search for Coxen's Fig-Parrot in South-east Queensland and North-east New South Wales during 1985. RAOU Report No. 21
Romer, L. and Gynther, I. (1997) Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Program. Eclectus Issue 3. Storr, G.M. (1984) Revised List of Queensland Birds. Records of the Western Australian Museum. Supplement No. 19.

Notes on Coxen's Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni
By Dr Ian Gynther

Date: 02/08/2001

Distribution:

Published records describe a distribution from the Mary River (Gympie) in Qld south to the Richmond River in NSW & west to the Bunya Mts. (Holmes 1990, Garnett 1992). Other authors consider the distribution reached Maryborough in the north & the Macleay River in the south. Recent or recently acquired records, all highly plausible but so far unconfirmed, strongly suggest the range extends much further north in Qld to the greater Bundaberg area (I Gynther, unpublished data). Distribution is consistent with the bird's range predicted in a BIOCLIM analysis of past records. This predicted a northern limit at the Boyne R. near Gladstone.

Description:

Small, predominantly green parrot with a dumpy build. Head & bill disproportionately large. Tail extremely short. Total length 14-16cm. Rich green above, yellowish green below. Sides of breast yellow. Primaries deep blue & dark grey. Inner edges of tertials are red. Bill two-toned: pale grey at base, blackish towards tip. Iris brown. Male: blue forehead with scattered red feathers surrounding this & on lores; cheeks orange-red, bordered below by a band of mauve-blue. Female: similar but with a smaller blue patch on forehead, fewer or no red on the forehead & lores, & a duller, less extensive orange-red cheek patch. No description of immature exists.

Behaviour:

Flight rapid & direct without the twisting & turning characteristic of lorikeets (Norris 1964, Corfe 1977). Tends not to dart & dodge through gaps in the branches & foliage of the treetops (this description relates to C.d.macleayana but is presumably true for Coxen's) (Bourke & Austin 1947, Forshaw 1981). Flight call is short, clipped 2 note call described as high-pitched 'zeet-zeet'. May utter soft chattering calls when feeding but otherwise silent. Can be detected by discarded pieces of fig flesh falling from tree onto ground.

Diet:

Seeds of Ficus spp. when the fruits are ripe or nearing ripeness (Forshaw 1981). Species favoured are F.macrophylla, F.watkinsiana, F.platypoda, F.virens, F.superba, F.opposita, F.fraseri & F.coronata. Also thought to feed in Syzygium corynanthum, Elaeocarpus grandis, Litsea reticulata & Grevillea robusta. Known to use introduced edible figs F.carica, cotoneaster, queen palm & loquat (Irby 1930, Forshaw 1969, Holmes 1990).

Reproduction:

Nest & eggs have never been described. Assumed to resemble northern races in excavating nest chamber in a dead or decaying tree limb or trunk. Clutch size is 2. Nest construction thought to commence in Aug with breeding from Oct - Dec or Jan. No data exist for duration of incubation or period until fledging.

Predators:

No published information available. Predators probably include brown goshawk, grey goshawk, collared sparrowhawk, sooty owl & southern boobook.

Parasite/Pathogens:

No information available but C.d.macleayana is susceptible to Chlamydia & bacterial infections in captivity.

Habitat:

Preferred habitat was probably lowland dry & subtropical rainforest, especially in alluvial areas. Little of this remains (Martindale 1986, Holmes 1990). Recent records are from dry or cool subtropical rainforest from sea level to ~900m. Birds also use thin strips of gallery rainforest, littoral rainforest & coastal eucalypt/melaleuca forest where fig densities are high (eg near Bundaberg). Has been reported visiting isolated fruiting trees in gardens & cultivated farm lands.

Home Range:

No data are available. Birds appear to favour individual fruiting trees & consistently return to them until fruit is depleted. Such trees are assumed to form important components of nesting territories.

Burrows/Nest:

See Reproduction.

Threatening Processes:

Known Threats:Clearing & fragmentation of habitat, especially in lowland areas. Loss of all forest types in which figs occur - these need not necessarily be classical rainforest vegetation types.

Suspected Threats:

Possible winter food shortages & discontinuity between breeding & wintering habitats. Poaching/nest robbing for the purposes of egg collecting or the avicultural trade.

Status:

Considered critically endangered by Garnett (1992). No data exist to provide a confident estimate of effective pop. size or no. of subpopulations. No photographs of subspecies known to exist. May always have been rare within its range. As early as the turn of the 20th century concern was expressed for the scarcity of the bird & the decline in both its population & habitat (Illidge 1924). Little doubt that nos. have diminished even further since those times.

Management Recommendations:

Further survey to determine currently occupied localities including those used for breeding; research of known sites to increase knowledge of bird's ecological requirements & reproductive ecology; refinement of captive husbandry techniques using analogues (C.d.macleayana) for potential application to Coxen's fig-parrot; investigation of the taxonomic status of Coxen's fig-parrot with respect to the other Australian races; assessment of quantity, distribution & spatial arrangement of remnant rainforest & other forest types with significant fig resources; identification of specific localities for habitat rehabilitation & revegetation projects, including planting of specially propagated fig species.

Management Documents:

Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Plan (draft) for period 2001-2005.

References:
Bourke, P.A. & Austin, A.F. (1947) Notes on the Red-browed Lorilet. Emu 46:286-294.
Corfe, B.(1977) A sighting of the Fig Parrot in south-east Queensland. Sunbird 8:44.
Forshaw, J.M. (1969) Australian Parrots. Lansdowne, Melbourne.
Forshaw, J.M. (1981) Australian Parrots. Second (revised) edition. Lansdowne Editions, Melbourne. Garnett, S.(1992) The Action Plan for Australian Birds. Australian National Parks & Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Program, Project No. 121, Canberra.
Gould, J. 1867. Coxen's Fig Parrot. Proc. Roy. Zool. Soc. (Lond.). 1867. p182.
Holmes G.(1990) The Biology & Ecology of Coxen's Fig-Parrot. RAOU Report No.65. RAOU, Melbourne.
Illidge, R. (1924) The Blue-faced Lorilet, also called Coxen's Fig Parrakeet (Opopsitta coxeni, Gould.) Queensland Naturalist 4:113-114.
Irby, F.M. (1930) Coxen's Fig-Parrot. Emu 29:276-277.
Martindale, J. (1986) A Review of Literature and the Results of a Search for Coxen's Fig-Parrot in South-east Queensland and North-east New South Wales during 1985.
RAOU Report No.21. RAOU, Melbourne.
Norris, A.Y.(1964) Observations on some birds of the Tooloom Scrub, Northern N.S.W. Emu 63:404-412.
Garnett S.T. & Crowley G.M. (2000) The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000.

Notes Author:
Ian C. Gynther Notes Date: 02/08/2001

Acknowledgement to:
WildNet', corporate database of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Queensland.

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