Coxen's Fig-parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni Recovery Plan 2001-2005

Coxen's Fig-Parrot Recovery Team
© The State of Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, 2001

6. Listing of the Species

6.1 Historical decline

The decline of Coxen's fig-parrot was probably due to the clearing of lowland subtropical rainforest for agriculture and housing from the 1860s to around the start of the twentieth century and then to the logging of rainforest timbers until 1984 (Illidge 1924, Cayley 1938, Martindale 1986). However, Irby (1930), who encountered the species several times in the Richmond and Tweed River valleys of New South Wales, disagreed. She wrote that while 'they were never numerous', she considered they were not any rarer then than 20 years earlier 'when our vanishing scrubs still covered many a thousand acres now given over to crops and grass'. Nonetheless, Coxen's fig-parrot, like many other species, probably suffered a corresponding reduction in population numbers and range. Although a significant proportion of the hilly, higher altitude lowland subtropical rainforest is protected within formal conservation reserves, the near coastal, gently sloping, lowland subtropical rainforest such as the Big Scrub of north-east New South Wales has suffered substantial fragmentation and is poorly reserved (Martindale 1986).

6.2 Current threats

The suspected ongoing decline of the subspecies, ascertained from the paucity of sighting records despite the targeted surveys described by Martindale (1986, 1996), Holmes (1990, 1995), Gynther (1996a,b), Gynther and O'Reilly (1998) and Gynther et al. (1998) and more general, community-based surveys in Queensland and New South Wales (Gynther et al. 1998), may be caused by:

  • inadequate extent and quality of habitat;
  • loss of connectivity between summer and winter areas;
  • fragmented habitat requiring birds to cross open areas;
  • disturbance to some suspected ecotonal breeding areas;
  • disjunct feeding grounds leading to difficulties in finding food;
  • low numbers, preventing a social breeding trigger being activated;
  • intermittent food discontinuity causing a gap in food availability during the year;
  • low numbers limiting an energy efficient communal food search effort;
  • increased competition;
  • potential change to social structures following population decline;
  • disease; and
  • stochastic events, such as drought, which may have severe impacts upon low populations.

Currently, the bird may be threatened by degradation of feeding and nesting habitat by weeds, particularly in the lowland riparian subtropical rainforest remnants where figs and other fleshy-fruited rainforest trees are most concentrated (Joseph 1988, Garnett 1992, Garnett and Crowley 2000, A. Floyd pers. comm., S. Horton pers. comm., R.J. Hunter pers. comm., L. Jessup pers. comm., P. Young pers. comm.). Significant invasion by cat's claw creeper Macfadyena unguis-cati of gallery rainforest near Bundaberg has been noted by I. Gynther (pers. comm.) in the vicinity of recent fig-parrot sightings.

In New South Wales, the threat caused by fragmented habitat may be slowly easing as a result of government and privately sponsored community rainforest reforestation programs. Many earlier planted rainforest areas and gardens are now maturing and producing fruit (S. Horton pers. comm., R.J. Hunter pers. comm.). However, most of the potential habitat for the fig-parrot still remains degraded. In New South Wales, J.B. Williams (pers. comm.) believes that lowland subtropical rainforests are increasing in both area and species diversity, while in southern coastal Queensland, loss of lowland subtropical rainforest has probably stabilised and rehabilitation programs are beginning (P. Young pers. comm.).

Logging and associated disturbance of the subtropical rainforest/eucalypt ecotones thought to be part of the breeding habitat may also be a threat for the subspecies. Forshaw (1981) emphasises the special need to protect the rainforest edge where burning, clearing or logging operations not specifically targeted at the rainforest can be particularly damaging.

Mature figs that remain as isolated paddock or shade trees on agricultural or other land (e.g. council parks and reserves) probably form an important winter food source (J. Young pers. comm.). A potential threat is lack of recruitment to these isolated groups of figs.

The rarity of Coxen's fig-parrot in the wild and its apparent absence in captivity probably make it highly desirable to illegal egg collectors and aviculturists. Thus, illegal robbing of nests for eggs, young and adults is a substantial additional threat (Holmes 1990). A considerable black market for this taxon, particularly overseas, undoubtedly exists.

Whilst many reasons for the apparent decline in Coxen's fig-parrot numbers may never be known or accurately quantified, studies of related subspecies may provide some clues. The cryptic nature of the bird also means that any conclusions on previous habitat or altitudinal requirements of the species must be viewed with caution because of the potential for observer bias. It is possible that the quantity of habitat remaining may be more critical for the species than the altitudinal distribution of the habitat (D. Charley pers. comm.).

6.3 Social and economic impacts

The implementation of this recovery plan is unlikely to cause significant adverse social and economic impacts.

6.4 International obligations

Although Coxen's fig-parrot is listed in Appendix I of CITES, this recovery plan does not affect Australia's obligations under international agreements.

6.5 Role and interests of indigenous people

Indigenous communities involved in the regions affected by this plan have not yet been identified. Implementation of recovery actions under this plan will include consideration of the role and interests of indigenous communities in the region.