A flock of critically endangered orange-bellied parrots has been released into the wild after being ranched at Werribee Open Range Zoo for the winter.

Fifteen of the female birds, including six bred in captivity at Healesville Sanctuary, have been set free in Melaleuca, a hamlet in the south-west of Tasmania and one of the last known breeding grounds of the species.

Seven of the parrots were originally collected from Melaleuca in April, at the end of this year’s breeding season, as part of a program to help boost the species’ population.

The birds would normally migrate across the Bass Strait to the south-eastern coast of the mainland for winter but migration puts them at risk of predators, such as foxes and cats.

Werribee Zoo associate veterinarian, Dr Paul Eden said the released birds would play an important role in the conservation of their species, one of Australia’s most endangered birds.

“Very few wild birds are expected to return to the breeding grounds this year, and these released birds will play a critical role in the upcoming breeding season in Tasmania … each and every orange-bellied parrot that makes the journey over Bass Strait is significant,” Dr Eden said.

Zoos Victoria works closely with the national orange-bellied parrot recovery team.