The Naretha Bluebonnet (Northiella haematogaster narethae) is extremely rare in human care in the European latitudes, but it is not a rare bird in the wild, even if one might at first get the impression, since only a few people have seen it here. In fact, e.g. the Black-cheecked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) native to Africa is a huge rarity in the wild compared to the Naretha Bluebonnet. The Naretha Bluebonnet lives in inaccessible, desert-like biotopes, which makes it difficult to see it in its natural environment. Here you can see a male bird. Photo from the internet.
Here, the smallest of the subspecies is described, which also markedly distinguishes them from the other Bluebonnets in its colouring.
The male's mask is bluish often edged with a yellowish border; gray-brown upperside, the wing-coverts slightly darker and provided with the red wing patch. The primaries and secondaries are dark blue or black, the entire belly and flanks are completely yellow, while the underwing-coverts are red. Upper tail coverts yellowish-cloudish. Tail feathers blue, but at the base dark green, the tips of the feathers are light, almost white. Iris black-brown, bill grey-blue, tarsus grey. Weight 75 – 80 grams.
The female's colours are much more blurred, the colour above the wing is significantly lighter, and the mask, especially above the upper beak, is significantly smaller. The weight of the female is 70 grams.
Length: 279 mm (males).
In the wild
This subspecies, which lacks the red belly patch of the other 3 types, is the only Bluebonnet that lives in Western Australia. Its home is the semi-arid regions of southeastern Western Australia and southwestern South Australia, primarily a small area around Naretha (the western side of the Nullarbor Plain). Its Latin subspecies name "narethae" derives from the bird's first known location, Naretha, in Western Australia. It lives in a narrow zone of vegetation bordering the Nullarbor Plain, which is part of an area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid land in Southern Australia, located on the coast of the Great Australian Bight and with the Great Victoria Desert to the north. The word Nullarbor is derived from the Latin "nullus", which means "no" and gazebo, "tree". It is the world's largest single piece of limestone, and it covers an area of no less than 200,000 km2. It has also been reported on the eastern side of the Nullarbor Plain, but according to the Australian authorities it is the result of birds that have escaped captivity. In addition, there are reports of the bird in other parts of South Australia, but these are probably illegally captured birds that have escaped transport via rail and road. Thus, the transcontinental railway line crosses central parts of its habitats.
Field studies from the second half of the 1950’s show that this bird, which is the smallest of the genus, can be seen in dry, almost desert-like, savanna areas with very little rainfall, where Stipa grasses grow. Stipa is a genus comprising approximately 300 large perennial bisexual grasses known as feather grass, needle grass and spear grass. Next, the habitats are characterized by cactus-like herbs (e.g. of the Xerophytic type) and groups of shrub (typically Atriplex vesicaria and Kochia sedifolia). The dominant trees in the biotope are 4 - 7 m tall Acacias (most often A. sowdenii and Acacia aneura). The relatively few Casuarina trees (C. cristata) of up to 10 m that are found in these areas are, with their hollows, suitable nesting targets. A curious observation from another field study is that this species did not enter woodlands with one particular type of Eucalyptus trees, while elsewhere it was observed to seek nesting opportunities and breed in woodlands with another type of Eucalyptus trees.
The biotope in which the Naretha Bluebonnet lives is thus characterized by huge dry land areas. These lands did not have artificial waterholes and wells until European emigrants began to settle here. The subspecies has thus also lived in these areas without artificial water resources, which means that Naretha Bluebonnet is thus able to cope without such possibilities. This subspecies is often observed far from water. E.g., Joseph M. Forshaw states that in the period 1967 - 70 this subspecies was observed in areas where there was more than 50 km to water, even during severe drought.
Much of its habitat is now dominated by animal agriculture, which can only be sustained by the permanent artificial water resources that this subspecies now benefits from. In its habitats to the north on the edge of the actual desert, it is known to live where there is no surface water, which must be said to be quite unique. Perhaps the bird gets enough moisture by doing like the wandering herds of cattle in the desert that get enough moisture by eating succulent forage plants of various kinds.
As the Naretha Bluebonnet lives in an extreme environment, it must therefore utilize all available forms of food, which is why it feeds on a wide range of food options. Where possible, the Naretha Bluebonnet spends a lot of time in grass, feeding on both immature and mature seeds. It also takes fruit, buds and leaves, and seems particularly fond of the seeds of various species of Acacia, as well as devouring the dandelions which may sometimes grow under these trees.
The stock appears quite fluctuating. You may have observed a large population in an area at a certain time, only to later find that there are only a few birds left in the area. It breeds throughout its range and the breeding period can be extended when the birds follow the scanty rain. In a year marked by drought, two things can happen, either the scale of breeding is reduced, or - even worse - breeding does not take place at all.
In southeastern Western Australia, nests have been found in hollow trunks that go below ground level. Typically, in Acacia, Myoporum and Casuarina as well as oak trees (Allocasuarina cristata), where nest openings are formed by knotholes and - what is more typical - cracks and hollows in a dead branch or tree. Here, the female bird usually lays 5 eggs.
Also, in relation to the breeding rhythm, this bird also differs from the other 3 types, as it has been seen breeding in March - April and in August - September, which can probably be explained by the fact that it follows the rain.
Another area in which it differs from the other types of Bluebonnets is its voice, which is quite different, as the call appears softer and is said to have an almost whistle-like tone. Likewise, its alarm cry is different, as it also appears softer.
They have been in high demand by the more extreme parts of the “birding industry” and illegal trapping has been widespread. It has previously been classified as an actual species, but the change to subspecies status can hopefully help ease the pressure on this bird, but unfortunately there will always be people who simply have to own something that is rare and different.
It is not a bird that you see every day in the wild, in fact it is said that very few people have ever seen the Naretha Bluebonnet in the wild as it inhabits remote desert like areas.
Naretha Bluebonnet (Northiella haematogaster narethae) differs in a number of areas from the other types of Bluebonnets, i.a. being the only type that lives in Western Australia, it does not make the same demands for access to water, its voice is much softer, and it also lacks the red belly spot that is characteristic of the other types. Photo from the internet.
This type does not appear in BirdLife International's records, as this organization primarily only operates at species level (nominate subspecies), cf. the article on Yellow-vented Bluebonnet.
Over the years, the Naretha Bluebonnet has been the subject of illegal trapping in large numbers. In addition, egg thieves have been at play, and these in particular have done a lot of damage, as the nest holes are cut open with large knives so that they more easily can get to the eggs and chicks, but unfortunately the site is destroyed as a future nest.
The Naretha Bluebonnet was formerly captured in Australia in large numbers, but capture is no longer a threat to this subspecies after a solid population was established by experienced Australian aviculturists from around the mid-1990’s. These aviculturists have succeeded in regular breeding of this type.
The distribution of the species depends partly on whether there are several consecutive years of drought during the breeding season, partly on whether there is sufficient access to suitable nest holes.
Among avicultural specialists in the USA and Europe there is a great demand for this subspecies, which is due to its rarity in human care, but the capture and export of these birds has - in common - with all other parts of the Australian fauna, been strictly banned for over 50 years.
Nature protection measures
No separate conservation measures are listed for this species, which is listed on CITES, list II. The Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities states that this subspecies is common in the remote range. If you compare the number of birds in the wild with e.g. the Black-cheeked lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis), which is a relatively common parrot species in human care, the Naretha Bluebonnet is a very common bird in the wild. BirdLife International estimates the natural population of Black-cheeked Lovebirds at only 2,500 - barely 10,000 mature individuals within an area of 17,500 km2 and with a constantly decreasing population. Compared to this, the Australian authorities have previously estimated the number of Naretha Bluebonnets in the wild at approximately 60,000 birds in an area estimated at 120,000 km2, and it is estimated that the population in the wild is declining, although not significantly.
The Australian authorities also estimate that the population of Naretha Bluebonnet is regenerated at intervals of 3 years.
In human care
It is kept in human care in several places in Australia, but is extremely rare in private aviaries outside this continent.
It is only seen among very few highly specialized aviculturists in Europe.
A few years ago, a very experienced German aviculturist launched an intensive search for the remaining specimens of the Naretha Bluebonnet among European aviculturists. The result was disappointing, as only a few very old specimens of this subspecies could be traced. This finding was the starting point for establishing a coordination program for the Yellow-vented Bluebonnet under different auspices in Germany, so that it does not have to experience the same fate (see separate article on this nominate subspecies).
I am not aware of any colour mutations of this subspecies.
Likely to be similar to Yellow-vented Bluebonnet (see this one).
Conceived/Updated: 05.12.2010 / 30.01.2024
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