A new study has found the endangered Night Parrot does not see as well as expected for a nocturnal bird and could be colliding with fences.
The bird was believed to be extinct but Mount Isa bird expert Rex Whitehead says the Night Parrot still exists in North West Queensland.
It was supposedly spotted at a western Queensland national park in 2013 by naturalist John Young but experts later said Mr Young's research was fake.
However in 2018 Bush Heritage Australia spotted and photographed a young Night Parrot on their Pullen Pullen reserve in western Queensland.
Now an international study, co-led by Flinders University's Dr Vera Weisbecker, has revealed the critically endangered parrot's visual system is not as well-adapted to life in the dark as would be expected for a nocturnal bird, raising concerns it might be adversely impacted by fencing in the outback.
"Night Parrots must be able to find their way at night - to find food, avoid obstacles while flying, and escape predators," Dr Weisbecker said.
"We therefore expect their visual system to show adaptations for seeing in the dark, similar to other nocturnal birds - New Zealand's Kakapo parrot and owls with enlarged eyes for example. However, we found that this wasn't the case."
Dr Karine Mardon, from The National Imaging Facility at The University of Queensland Centre for Advanced Imaging, scanned the then only known intact skull of one, as well as skulls from related parrots, using computed tomography scanning before co-author Aubrey Keirnan compared 3D reconstructions of the Night Parrot's skull and brain with that of related parrot species.
"We found that the Night Parrot has similar eye size to other parrots, with smaller optic nerves. It also has smaller optic lobes, which are visual processing areas in the brain," Ms Keirnan said.
"This suggests that the Night Parrot may not be great at seeing in the dark: its vision is likely sensitive, but with poor resolution, so that it might not be good at distinguishing obstacles like wire fences or even predators in dark conditions."
The findings raise questions about the night parrot's ability to survive with low numbers in remote outback Australia- where fencing is important for stock management and predator exclusion.