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Extracts relating to the Paradise Parrot from Cyril Henry Jerrard’s nature journals, 1922–1928, chosen by Penny Olsen

Journal (Nature) Vol. II April 1922 – July 1925

1922

April 24. Today I opened up the anthill parrots nest on the road near Manar, it having been deserted by the pair some weeks ago. I found it to contain 5 eggs pinkish white 7/8” x ¾”. There is little difference in the shape between the two ends; in fact two had both ends exactly alike so that it was impossible to distinguish between ‘big’ & ‘little’ ends. Two of them were perforated on side in contact with ground. None seem to contain embryos. One which I broke was ‘bad’, containing a milky stinking fluid. The intact ones also see to be three parts full of fluid. I photographed the eggs as they lay in situ.

Nest with eggs

Of this closer image of the deserted clutch, Jerrard noted: ‘Eggs of Psephotus pulcherrimus in situ in termites’ mound opened 24/4/22. Dimensions .9” x .8”; colour pinkish white; both ends shaped almost alike. This clutch was incubated for a long period (by the female only so far as I could observe) without result. I do not think the setting up of my hiding place at the nest interrupted the sitting long enough to cool the eggs. I suspected incubation before the end of February. I erected my hiding place first on Mar. 7th. On Mar. 27th the birds were still visiting the mound, but on that date, I noted marks of perplexity or chagrin in the behaviours of both. The male chirped questioningly with one eye to the hole while the female, instead of entering quickly, as on all previous occasions, sat for some time with quite a pathetic air of dejection, on top of the mound and eventually flew off with her mate without having entered at all. After this the nest was deserted altogether. It may be that inbreeding, due to great rarity of the species had caused impaired fertility in the case of this pair’.

Cyril Henry Harvey Jerrard (1889–1943)
Paradise Parrot (Psephotus pulcherrimus) nest with eggs photographed in the wild, Burnett River, Queensland 1922
b&w photograph; 16.3 x 21.1 cm
National Library of Australia
nla.pic-vn3125063

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In making the nest the birds evidently do not carry outside any of the material from the interior part of the mound, but leave the broken up stuff to form the bed of the nest. Only the hard material of the outer crust, through which the entrance tunnel is driven, is deposited outside. The interior excavation is roughly circular 15” to 18” across and 7 or 8 inches high in the middle. There is no lining, feathers or dung in this cavity. The floor is level, and lower than the surface of the ground outside. The eggs lay almost under the centre of the mound. The tunnel was about 9” long, nearly horizontal, and entered the nest cavity to the top and to one side, so that the eggs could not have been seen or touched from the outside. In this as in the old nests I previously examined, the cavity is right at the bottom of the mound. Like them too this mound contains no white ants.

journal for 24 April 1922

In this entry in his nature journal for 24 April 1922, Jerrard described his painful decision to open the nest after he had determined that the pair he was photographing had deserted it.

Cyril Henry Harvey Jerrard (1889–1943)
Page from Jerrard’s nature journal, volume 2, April 1922 – July 1925
lined exercise book; 18.0 x 22 cm
Courtesy of Graham Jerrard

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Re the other nest near Manar house I was told two days ago that the small stone I had placed in the entrance on 11th visit to indicate whether birds were visiting has not been disturbed. Evidently the nest is not in use.

May 1. The Atherton boys report that the stone I had placed in mouth of anthill parrots nest behind their house has been knocked out once or twice during the past week.

May 15. I visited ant-hill parrots nest behind Manar house, found the stone out of the entrance and lying on the ground in front of the hole, and replaced it. The tunnel had not the appearance of being visited recently, nor have the parrots been seen lately.

August 1. Looked for Paradise Parrots all about Boynedale Sheep-station without success.

September 4. Mr Atherton reports that lately several Beautiful Parrots have been seen near the nesting mound where I obtained photographs last summer.

September 13. Heard from Mrs Atherton that a pair of Beautiful Parrots have been seen two or three times lately near the old nesting mound behind the homestead at Manar.

Boy looking at remite mound

Teddy Atherton, the son of the photographer’s neighbour, looks intently at the termite mound on Manar, in which the parrots nested in 1922. The Atherton family regularly passed on their observations to Jerrard. Of the nest in the photograph, Jerrard noted that it ‘was less than a quarter of a mile from a station homestead—a roof of which is distinguishable towards the left of the picture—and just off the track leading thereto. These beautiful birds have a marked penchant for feeding & nesting in proximity to such human thoroughfares as may traverse their haunts. It may be excusable vanity, but it has probably had a fatal influence in the decimation of the species. For a bird so coveted as this parrot has been by collectors and dealers in the past, their chief safety lay in seclusion’.

Cyril Henry Harvey Jerrard (1889–1943)
Nest & Habitat of Psephotus pulcherrimus 1922
glass negative
Cayley Pictures Neg. No. 320 (8)
Australian Museum

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October 21. I saw a pair of Paradise Parrots close to the spot where they nested last year along the road in Manar. Some distance away in Boynedale I found the commencement of a new nesting hole in a mound that I opened up last year. The hole at present is hardly 3 inches deep and shows signs of having been worked at within the last day or two. The fact of the mound having been opened by me, as I have said, quite disqualifies it for nesting again as the hole which the birds are now drilling will if continued only lead into a cavity exposed to full view from without. It is a rather striking example of the limitations of instinct.

November 2. Mr A.H. Chisholm has visited Blackdown and seen the Paradise Parrots at their regular haunt. He came up by Mondays train and I drove him out here the same night. The two following days we spent hunting for our birds on Manar. On Tuesday we were unsuccessful, but yesterday the pair was located at the same place where I saw them last (Oct 21st). Mr Chisholm studied them for two hours while they fed on the grass and in the trees. The food provided by the latter was, he thinks, leaf-galls. No further work has been done by the bird at the nesting hole mentioned on Oct 21st nor did we find any other mound having traces of recent nest making work. Mr Chisholm was however well pleased with the measure of success which fortune had vouchsafed him.

Blackdown, the Jerrard family home

Blackdown, the Jerrard family home, where Cyril returned from his property, 20 miles away, for dinner on many nights.

Cyril Henry Harvey Jerrard (1889–1943)
Blackdown
b&w photograph; 10.2 x 7.9 cm
Courtesy of Graham Jerrard

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November 9. The pair of Paradise Parrots was seen by Mr Lindley near Manar either yesterday or the day before.

November 17. Jack Atherton reports … P. pulcherrimus pair seen about the usual spot on 11th or 12th.

December 6. Today I watched P. pulcherrimus pair feeding on ground at roadside first at old Sheep Station at Cave Creek crossing where they flew across the creek and resumed feeding in the vicinity of the well. I was struck by the appearance of the female’s tail which seemed very long and tipped with white. However after a time I made out that the unusual appearance was due to a loosened feather which was white and stuck out an inch or more beyond the rest of the tail.

December 14. Saw the pair of Paradise Parrots at lower road crossing of W.A. Gully and Manar.

Dec 23. Mr Atherton saw the pair of Paradise Parrots at lower W.A. crossing yesterday.

1923

January 1. Mr Atherton tells me that the pair of Paradise Parrots was seen by Mr Lindley lately (probably Boxing Day) near the old nesting mound behind Manar house.

February 17. I revisited the old nesting mound of P. pulcherrimus near Manar homestead this afternoon. It does not seem at present to be in use but I saw the pair of parrots 100 yds or so farther along the track towards Jingeri gate. They were feeding quietly on the ground, climbing grass stalks for seed, and as usual their presence was first betrayed to me by the sharp ‘whit’ I now know so well.

March 12. Mrs Atherton reports that Psephotus pulcherrimus pair have been frequently seen lately about Manar homestead.

April 24. Two pairs of Paradise Parrots were seen at Manar today. They were feeding on the ground in a field on which a crop of millet hay has just been taken. No doubt they are gleaning a plentiful harvest of fallen seeds.

April 30. Mr Atherton tells me that 4 or 5 Paradise Parrots are now often seen about Manar homestead chiefly about the cultivation paddock and in horse paddock on the same side of the creek as the well.

May 24. Mrs Atherton tells me that of the nine Paradise Parrots which she saw at Manar some weeks ago only one was a male. She supposes the others were females but I think more likely most of them were young.

October 24. Within the last few days Mr Atherton has seen a single male Paradise Parrot at his water troughs in the Manar ‘Night-horse paddock’. Query is the hen-bird attending to nesting duties.

December 4. Mr Atherton has seen the Paradise Parrot pair twice lately—once at water in Night-horse paddock and a morning or two ago at the old haunt where I photographed their nesting nearly two years ago.

December 31. I looked at Paradise Parrots’ nest behind Manar today. It may possibly have been entered by the birds lately as there are no cobwebs over the entrance.

1924

January 17. Yesterday I saw the Paradise Parrot pair in the trees at the place where they nested in 1922. On the other side of W.A. Gully I found an ant-hill in which appears they have started to make a nest. The hole was hardly an inch deep but some dust beneath it indicated that the work is of recent date.

January 18 to 31. Heard from the Kunkel brothers that Paradise Parrots were once (in their lifetime) common at Fifteen-mile but none have been seen for 20 years.

February 3. Examined the anthill at which I suspected Paradise Parrots have commenced nest-making lately (see Jan 17). The hole has been deepened only slightly and has not been touched for some days at least. Did not see the birds.

March 25. I saw the male Paradise Parrot by himself at the old nesting site on the road. Has he lost his faithful mate?

June 14. Mr Atherton reports having seen a pair of Paradise Parrots at the old spot between two crossings of W.A. Gully on Boondooma Rd on May 23rd. I wonder if this is the original male with a new mate. The former was seen alone three times (by Mr A. the morning after the hailstorm in January, once more by Mr A. and once by myself) in the interval January to May.

June 28. I looked for Paradise Parrots at the nesting site on Manar–Boondooma Road but saw neither the birds nor any sign of recent nesting operations.

July 3. Mrs Atherton tells me she saw a fem. Paradise Parrot on the Manar cornfield a few days ago.

July 10. Two days ago Mr Atherton saw six Paradise Parrots on the Bald Mountain on Weir Road. It was a wet day and the birds were feeding alongside the track. They flew ahead of him and he could not distinguish their sex or say whether any of them were young ones.

July 23. Mrs Atherton has lately seen several Paradise Parrots at the water near Manar. She has looked at the old nest-mound behind the house but sees no sign of it having been used lately.

October 7. Mr Atherton tells me Ted saw 5 Paradise Parrots at the old site at top of crossing of W.A. Gully this morning.

November 15. This week Mr Atherton has seen the Paradise Parrot pair near the cypress pine clump on the Weir Weir Road about half a mile from Manar. He also saw what looked like the commencement of a nest there. One day he saw the female alone; next day her mate was near her.

December 15. [On his way to Waringa, ie Kingar Springs] Spent time looking for the Paradise Parrots without success.

1925

January 16. The Paradise Parrots are not in evidence now.

January 26. When passing Manar today I heard the characteristic whistle of the Paradise Parrot, soon discovered the pair in the trees. I was shocked by the appearance of the male. Scraggy and faded, he looked like the ancient specimen in the Brisbane Museum. The gorgeous red of his underparts had become dull like the shoulder patch and was mottled with yellow. The red frontal patch was gone and the brilliancy of all his hues was lost. His tail was shortened and terminated in bare shafts. The female however looked just about as usual. Is her mate’s condition attributable to moult or is it possible he is a young bird not fully plumaged? There was nothing to suggest the latter except his appearance. He looked rather dumpy as he sat with his head turned back to the base of his tail. I note the female has a small red-tinged patch in the centre of her abdomen.

June 25. Jacob Horn says he saw 4 Paradise Parrots at the Cypress Pine clump on Weir Weir Road about three weeks ago. John Horn also mentioned having seen some of them since Christmas.

Journal (Nature) Vol. III July 1925 – July 1937

1925 continued

September 23. This reminds me of the behaviour of the female Paradise Parrot similar circumstances. [He had climbed 40 ft to a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo’s nest having judged that it was deserted by the behaviour of the female; the eggs were rotten and one was filled with maggots.]

October 26. Jacob Horn tells me has seen the Paradise Parrots several times within the last four months. He says there were as many as 5 together.

December 24. This evening shortly before sundown I saw a pair of Paradise Parrots on the Weir Weir Road just this side of the Cypress clump. They rose from the grass as I approached them, with their characteristic sharp call. The male was in full bright plumage, the shoulder patch being particularly brilliant, matching the red underparts.

1926

February 23. Mrs Atherton reports 5 Paradise Parrots at Manar (2 male & 3 female).

February 24. Paradise Parrots up to five in number & of both sexes now frequent at stubble field, from which millet crop has just been reaped, at Manar. There are a great number of other common parrots with them, all evidently relishing the fallen millet seed.

February 27. Saw two Paradise Parrots near the old nesting site on Manar–Boondooma Road. Could not be quite sure whether they were a pair or two males.

March 29. Mrs Atherton has seen three Paradise Parrots on millet stubble field at Manar within the last day or two.

May 6. Saw three Paradise Parrots (male and two females) on my Waringa selection today [part of Kingar Springs]. I was riding along the Por. 14 boundary fence near s.w. corner when the whistle of a parrot caught my ear. It sounded like P. pulcherrimus so I stopped & listened till I heard it again & saw several birds fly off the ground to alight again some distance off. I carefully approached them and had the great satisfaction of seeing clearly with the help of my little glasses a male in brilliant plumage and two females feeding on the sparsely grassed crest of a red sandstone ridge. They were biting off the newly unfolded white fluffy heads of the ‘feathertop’ or ‘jointed’ grass. It was pretty to watch the dextrous way they seized the grass stalks by the butts & rapidly moved their bills along the seed-heads which were chewed for a second or two & then released. A small flock of Spotted sided Finches [Zebra Finches] were feeding near by on the grass-heads too, but they obtained their foods by jumping directly for the seed-head. Eventually the parrots flew away towards the boundary of Por. 15.

November 20. On Weir Weir Road near the clump of cypress pine on top of the hill I saw this evening two pairs of Paradise Parrots. Discovered the first pair by hearing the whistle of the male and suspected the proximity of a rival as his notes were particularly animated and frequent. Soon I heard an answering call not far off and saw the second pair fly up & perch for some time on a dead tree. The first pair were busy feeding on the ground by the roadside. Both pairs were in adult plumage.

December 11. Charlie Barrett told me that not long ago he saw a pair of Paradise Parrots at (one of them on an anthill) 1 ½ mile along the mailmans track through Boynedale. Mr Atherton tells me he has lately seen a female of this species at two different and widely separated places on his back country beyond Weir Weir.

December 21. A pair of Paradise Parrots has been seen about Manar lately.

1927

March 5. Mr Atherton told me tonight that a few days ago he saw three Paradise Parrots on Brovinia Creek at Weir Wier.

March 26. Today on Por 16 Waringa (Raby’s block) I saw a Paradise Parrot’s nest-hole in a white-ant hill. I did not see any of the birds but evidently a pair has nested there recently—possibly may be nesting now, as the hole is fresh-looking without any cobwebs in the entrance. It is situated among some lately ringbarked trees on a small gully a few hundred yards off Waringa Creek about the middle of its course through Por. 16.

September 24. I looked at the Paradise Parrots on Raabe’s [Portion 16, taken up by Jerrard] selection again today. It was clean-looking, free of cobwebs or other obstructions and may be in use, though I saw no sign of birds.

November 14. On 13th I saw a male Paradise Parrot at a new spot on Mason’s selection—a Spotted Gum and wattle ridge about half a mile from Manar fence. The red on abdomen did not extend to under base of tail, and the rest of the colours were less brilliant than usual. He was whistling a good deal and chasing after one or two other birds including a Drongo. Though I watched him more than a quarter of an hour I did not see him on the ground. He flew from tree to tree and appeared to be feeding on wattle seeds or something of the kind.

1928

May 4. Mr Atherton recently saw a pair of Paradise Parrots at a new place about 3–4 miles along Weir Weir Road from Manar. They were on the ground, at a spot where a patch of cane-grass was burned late this summer.

November 30. A week or two ago young Lindley saw a male Paradise Parrot at the watertrough in W.A. Gully on Boynedale–Manar fence.

December 18. Examined the supposed old nest hole of Psephotus pulcherrimus in an anthill on Raby’s property. The mound is now broken open at the bottom on one side and a large cavity, like that found in other nests I have opened can be seen. The little entrance-tunnel is still uninjured. It is halfway up the mound and slants slightly downward.

graph of dates and numbers of birds recorded

Jerrard continued to record Paradise Parrots over several years, from 1920. In the years after the failed nesting attempt that he had photographed at Manar, he found another (unused) nest and continued to see Paradise Parrots until the birds disappeared from his area in 1928. Why no ornithologist visited him and attempted to salvage some birds is an unsolved tragedy. The graph shows the dates and numbers of birds recorded by Jerrard in his nature journals for the period between December 1920, when the parrot first came to his attention, and 1928, after which he and his neighbours no longer saw it. As Jerrard noted, the birds apparently tended to move out of the district for the winter months of June, July and August (shaded blue), with the notable exception of the mild winter of 1924.

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