Penny OlsenPenny Olsen

Harold White Fellowship Research Topic :
Paradise lost: the quest for the paradise parrot.
Dr Olsen examined the Mathews Collection and other ornithological collections in the Library for references to the paradise parrot, the only mainland bird species to have become extinct since the European colonisation of Australia. Described by John Gould as the ‘Beautiful Parrakeet’, the paradise parrot was once quite common in the woodlands of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, but has not been sighted since the 1920s. Dr Olsen, who lives in Canberra, has written several books on Australian birds of prey, as well as numerous chapters and research papers on biological subjects.


Penny Olsen completed her BSc hons on Antechinus at ANU in 1969 and found work as an Experimental Officer with the CSIRO, where she studied the ecology of water rats and the effect of predation on feral mouse populations. In 1981 she took a few years off to raise her children, but carried on research on birds of prey. From 1984 to 1989 she was President of the Australasian Raptor Association. She went back to university to do a PhD on the breeding ecology of raptors, which she completed in 1991. Post-doctoral research into sex allocation in peregrine falcons led to her research on lifetime reproduction, for which she was granted an ARC Fellowship. In 1997 she was awarded the D.L.Serventy Medal for services to ornithology by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union. Since 1999 she has been a consultant to various government departments and a visiting Fellow at ANU. She also writes books and works as Editor of the Birds Australia quarterly magazine, Wingspan.


Mr Gilbert’s Beautiful Parrakeet. NLA News article about Penny Olsen's Harold White Fellowship research

Link to Penny Olsen's home page at the Australian National University.

Link to the Bright Sparcs entry on Penny Olsen at the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre.


Penny Olsen's 2001 book Feather and Brush attracted a number of awards, including The Australian's 2002 award for Excellence in Educational Publishing, and the Royal Zoological Society of NSW's Whitley Award in 2002 for Best Ilustrated Book.

Penny Olsen was awarded the D.L.Serventy Medal in 1997 for Outstanding Contributions to Australian Ornithology by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.


See Dr Olsen's homepage at the Australian National University for a more extensive bibliography than that below, including earlier works.

Recent Books

Olsen, P (1998). Australia's Pest Animals: New Solutions to Old Problems. Kangaroo Press, Sydney. 160 pp. [link to Libraries Australia record with summary and location information]
Olsen, P (2001). Feather and Brush: Three Centuries of Australian Bird Art. CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne. 227 pp. [link to publisher page about this book] [link to Libraries Australia record with location information and contents notes]
Olsen, P (2005). Wedge-tailed Eagle. CSIRO Publishing. [link to publisher page about this book] [link to Libraries Australia record with location information]

Recent Papers in refereed journals

McDonald, PG., Olsen, PD., & Cockburn, A. (2005) Selection on body size in a raptor with pronounced reversed sexual size dimorphism: is bigger better? Behavioral Ecology 16: 4-56 [abstract]
McDonald, PG, Olsen, P & Cockburn, A (2005). Sex allocation and nestling survival in a dimorphic raptor: does size matter? Behavioral Ecology 16: 922-930 [abstract]
Olsen, P, Weston, M.,Tzaros, C. and Silcocks, A. (2005). The State of Australia's birds 2005: Woodlands and birds. Wingspan 15(4) supplement. 32pp. Online at
Olsen, P, and Weston, M. The state of Australia's birds 2004: Water, Wetlands and Birds. Wingspan 14 (4) supplement 24pp. Online at
Shephard, JM., Hughes, JM., Catterall, CP. and Olsen, P. (2005). Conservation status of the White-Bellied Sea-Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster in Australia determined using mtDNA control region sequence data. Conservation Genetics 6:413-429. (abstract)

Contact Details

Dr Penny Olsen
Visiting Fellow
School of Botany and Zoology
Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200 Australia
Ph: +61 02 6125 2536
Fax: +61 02 6125 5573

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