It is quite common to see Hooded Parrots foraging on the ground in areas where Black-faced Woodswallows are circling overhead in pursuit of flying insects, or perched in chattering flocks along the bare branches of a tree. This is a scene that occurs only in the semi-arid parts of the Top End region of the Northern Territory, as Hooded Parrots occur nowhere else on earth. But why on earth do they do it?
When flocks of Hooded Parrots are feeding on the ground, taking seeds from grasses and herbs, they are particularly susceptible to being taken by aerial predators, such as falcons, or terrestrial predators, such as feral cats. At the appearance of a predator, the woodswallows instantly give off a cacophony of scolding, chattering alarm calls, alerting the parrots to the presence of imminent danger and allowing them to escape.
This is not the only association that Hooded Parrots have with other species. Most parrots build their nests in hollows, especially in trees, but Hooded Parrots build their nests at the end of long tunnels dug into the side of termite mounds. This trait is shared with their close relatives, the Golden-shouldered Parrot and the extinct Paradise Parrot.
One of the best places to see a Hooded Parrot is in a small town called Pine Creek, a couple of hours’ drive south-east of Darwin. There, the locals are used to seeing birdwatchers, armed with binoculars and cameras, creeping about in the park across the road from the pub, trying to see the parrots as they feed on the grass, or loitering around the water-tower at dusk to see them fly in to drink. In the Wet Season, Hoodies are easily seen foraging on seeding herbs growing by the roadsides.
If you’d like to find out where you can find a Hooded Parrot (maybe with some woodswallows), check out BirdLife Australia’s Birdata website.