Beak and feather disease affecting endangered psittacine species

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005

Threat abatement plan
ISBN 0 642 54911 7

About the plan

Psittacine beak and feather disease (BFD) is a common and potentially deadly disease of parrots caused by a circovirus named beak and feather disease virus. The disease appears to have originated in Australia and is widespread and continuously present in wild populations of Australian parrots. The potential effects of the disease on parrot populations range from inconsequential to devastating, depending on environmental conditions and the general health of the parrots. In captivity the disease can cause very high death rates in nestlings, and this is likely to also occur in the wild, particularly in cases where the virus is introduced to populations where breeding females have low levels of immunity. The level of threat and distribution of the virus can be altered by the movements of common parrot species; for example the recent arrival of Galahs and Little Corellas on Kangaroo Island, where the endangered Glossy Black-Cockatoo lives and breeds in the same habitat.

BFD affecting endangered psittacine species (parrots and related species) was listed in April 2001 as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The minister at the time of listing determined under section 270A of the EPBC Act that having a threat abatement plan was a feasible, effective and efficient way to abate the impact of BFD virus on threatened Australian parrots.

Not all beak or feather abnormalities of parrots are caused by the BFD virus. For this reason, correct diagnosis of the disease is an important factor in its management. While there are distinctive clinical signs, confirmation of diagnosis should be carried out using techniques that detect either the virus or the parrot's antibody response to the virus. Reliable techniques have been developed to achieve this, but a consistent, practical and cost effective approach to diagnosis is required for Australia-wide management of the disease in threatened wild populations of parrots.

While eradication of a widespread and continuously present disease is not possible, well developed management plans based on current knowledge can assist in reducing the impact of the disease on threatened parrot populations.

This threat abatement plan, therefore, has two goals:

  • To ensure that beak and feather disease does not increase the likelihood of extinction or escalate the threatened status of psittacine birds.
  • To minimise the likelihood of beak and feather disease becoming a key threatening process for other psittacine species.

The plan's objectives are:

  1. To coordinate a national approach to managing beak and feather disease.
  2. To promote and conduct activities that lead to increased knowledge of the disease and to support research that addresses gaps in current knowledge about beak and feather disease.
  3. To monitor Beak and Feather Disease and psittacine populations and to analyse the resultant data to inform better management strategies.
  4. To identify and implement management actions and strategies to reduce the impacts of beak and feather disease.
  5. To share information with Australian, State and Territory Government management agencies, recovery teams, field workers, veterinarians and wildlife carers, so as to achieve better beak and feather disease management outcomes.

Implementing the plan will consolidate and coordinate the process of managing BFD impacts on native parrots. Control programs will have to continue for some time and the costs of these could be considerable.

This plan therefore establishes a framework for allowing the best possible use of resources that are available for managing BFD.

Review status

The threat abatement plan for psittacine beak and feather disease affecting endangered psittacine species (2005) was reviewed in 2012 by the minister as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The actions that have been undertaken to abate the threat from the disease as identified through the actions, goals and objectives of the threat abatement plan have been assessed to determine whether the current plan is still a feasible, effective and efficient way to abate the threatening process.

The Minister considered the review and has asked the department to provide the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) with further advice in regards to the current threat to threatened psittacine species. The department will present this advice to the TSSC towards the end of 2013.

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