Night Parrot

Paperback - September 2018 - AU $49.99

eBook - September 2018 - eRetailers Google Books Kobo

The competitiveness and secrecy, the triumphs and adventures of the history of the Night Parrot and its followers.

For well over a century, the Night Parrot lured its seekers into Australia's vast, arid outback. From the beginning it was a mysterious bird. Fewer than 30 specimens were collected before it all but disappeared, offering only fleeting glimpses and the occasional mummified body as proof of its continued existence. Protected by spinifex and darkness, the parrot attained almost mythical status: a challenge to birdwatchers and an inspiration to poets, novelists and artists. + Full description

Night Parrot documents the competitiveness and secrecy, the triumphs and adventures of the history of the bird and its followers, culminating in the recent discovery of live birds at a few widely scattered locations. It describes what we are now unravelling about the mysteries of its biology and ecology and what is still left to learn. Complemented by guest essays, illustrations and photographs from a wide variety of sources, this book sheds light on Australia's most elusive bird.

- Short description


"[Penny Olsen's] skill in research and bringing together many sources has made this a valuable volume of the records and history of the Night Parrot... This book collects the information up to the present time in the one place so that the story can be read in this compact volume. As noted, this is not a final chapter as observations unfold in continuing research and the developing knowledge base. I am sure you will appreciate the history and the story of this elusive bird of ours."
Gil Porter, Warbler 7(3), September 2018

"An intriguing and absorbing book... Penny Olsen has made an excellent job of tying together all the threads, human, psittacine, topographical and historical into a readable, well-referenced book with some excellent but tantalising photographs."
Norman McCanch, KOS News - newsletter of the Kent Ornithological Society #516, September 2018

"Part history, part mystery, the book focuses almost as much on the characters and their search -- and trying to work out whether some sightings were indeed the night parrot -- as it does on the bird itself, although there are plenty of short sections on what we know of the bird's biology... At 368 pages, this is an extensive read, but a fascinating one for lovers of Australia's wildlife and those who hope to one day get their own glimpse of our secretive national treasure."
R M Williams Outback, November 2018

"this story -- of evidence-driven, on-­ground action and increasing collaboration across groups to safeguard this enigmatic species -- is as inspiring as the many engaging stories told by Olsen throughout this book."
James Watson, Australian Birdlife, September 2018

"Arguably, Dr Olsen’s most important and challenging contribution to the history, research and illustration of Australian wildlife."
Graeme Hyde, Cage & Aviary Birds, 10 October 2018

"Considering how scarce information about this species has been, Olsen’s ability to add depth to the Night Parrot tale is impressive. The book is sure to make an entertaining read for anyone who longs to see a Night Parrot, has followed the story of its rediscovery, or simply has an interest in nature or Australian history. I for one am glad that she took on the task."
Rowan Mott, Remember the Wild (blog), 4 October 2018

"Olsen demonstrates that biology is only part of the story. Her forensic analysis of who found what, where, when and how creates a mix of history, ecology and stories of persistence and drama."
Peter Valentine, Australian Field Ornithology 2019 36, 2019

"Ms Olsen does an admirable job of recording in great detail the controversies, conflicts, claims and counter-claims that have turned the Nights Parrot’s very existence into mythology... those with a passion for unlocking mysteries and hidden truths will find much to enjoy in Night Parrot."
The Naturalist News, January-February 2019

"Penny Olsen has now provided a timely book bringing together all that is known about this species to date. It is also an account of the diverse people and their efforts who went in search of this elusive bird, and it makes for fascinating reading."
Michael Lenz, Canberra Bird Notes 43(3) December 2018

"Night Parrot by Penny Olsen is more than a biography of a bird that spent most of the twentieth century successfully hiding from people. It is a historical biography of human determination and obsession, and of the ways in which this bird has acted as a catalyst for transitions between those two psychological states."
Neil Murray, Australian Book Review (411), May 2019

"This beautifully written and presented book provides a gripping account of the unfolding human and ecological story of the search and ‘discovery’ of one of Australia’s most mysterious animals."
Michael A. Weston, The Victorian Naturalist 136(2), April 2019

"Olsen’s book is an appealing, accessible and valuable treatment of one of Australia’s most iconic and enigmatic bird species."
Walter Boles, Historical Records of Australian Science 30(1), 2019

"I strongly recommend this book—it’s a great story, very much still current, about the Holy Grail of birdwatching, not to mention a cast of characters that is almost too wacky to be true!"
Allan Burbidge, West Australian Bird Notes No. 168, December 2018

"Overall, Olsen should be commended for constructing a gripping, eclectic historical account of the discovery, presumed disappearance, and then rediscovery of an iconic bird of the Australian outback."
Mark F. Riegner, Quarterly Review of Biology 94, December 2019

"Penny Olsen’s new book tells a wholly human story of hopes kindled and dashed, tall stories told, of deception and ultimate success dating back to initial sightings of Australia’s rarest bird in the 1800s."
June Butcher, Western Australian Naturalists Club, 28 January 2019

"A heady mix of yarns, science, history and even the odd short story and poem, this is a one-of-a-kind book."
Robert A. Davis, Austral Ecology 44(2), April 2019


Paperback | September 2018 | $ 49.99
ISBN: 9781486302987 | 368 pages | 245 x 170 mm
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Illustrations, Photographs

ePDF | September 2018
ISBN: 9781486302994
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers


  • The story of one of the most elusive and enigmatic birds in the world; the ‘Holy Grail’ of birdwatching
  • Documents the impact this mysterious bird has made on our society
  • Draws from an eclectic range of materials including scientific articles, newspapers and ephemera, art and literature, and historical images and accounts
  • Author Penny Olsen is one of Australia’s leading ornithologists


Acknowledgements (PDF, 94kb)
Introduction: The call of the Night Parrot
A tangled nest of Night Parrot names
Getting to know the family: the molecular story by Leo Joseph

South Australia
The very first ‘beautiful ground parrakeet’: Charles Sturt, John McDouall Stuart and John Harris Browne
Myrrlumbing: Frederick Andrews
Hunters of the long-lost Night Parrot: Samuel Albert White and Ethel Rosina White
Sclerolaena not spinifex: Shane Parker

Western Australia
Spinifex Parrot: Robert Austin, Albert Calvert and George Keartland
Mournful whistle: Martin Bourgoin
A concerted effort: the CALM campaign
The vanishing habitat of the Night Parrot in the Gascoyne and Murchison regions of Western Australia: lessons from historical records, land use and landscape processes by Peter Curry

Mallee Bird: Charles McLennan

New South Wales
Have you ever seen a Night Parrot?: W. Kelly

Northern Territory
Fly-by-night: George Keartland, Lawson Whitlock & Co.
A frame-up: Sidney William Jackson

Bodies beside the road and a bird in the hand: Boles, Cupitt, Young & Co.
‘They say if enough are found’: Steve Murphy and John Young
Not the final chapter


View the full table of contents. (PDF, 104kb)


Penny Olsen AM is an Honorary Professor in the Division of Ecology and Evolution, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University. During her career as a research scientist she increasingly turned her hand to writing about Australian wildlife, its history, researchers and illustrators. She is the author of nearly 30 books and 120 research papers.