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Critically endangered bird rebounds in Australia

Plains Wanderer
Plains Wanderer. Photo by Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock

A recent survey in northern Victoria, a state in southeastern Australia, uncovered a record number of Plains Wanderers — small, quail-like birds that live only in eastern Australia grasslands. The birds represent an ancient lineage of birds that evolved in the supercontinent Gondwana more than 100 million years ago.

The bird is so critically endangered and taxonomically unique it is ranked the No. 1 priority for conservation action among birds of the world by the Zoological Society of London.

Dan Nugent, a Ph.D. student at La Trobe University in Melbourne, said the team found more Plains Wanderers during the recent survey than since monitoring began back in 2010.

“We detected 60 adults and 41 chicks. This is more than double the previous best result in 2018 when 30 adults and 17 chicks were detected,” Nugent said.

“A further encouraging sign was that 85% of monitoring sites supported Plains Wanderers — the highest percentage of sites since surveys began 12 years ago.”

The survey was undertaken by La Trobe University in partnership with North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA), as part of a report for Department of Environment Land and Water and Planning (DELWP).

Surveyed since 2010

Since 2010, ecologists have monitored Plains Wanderer numbers in native grasslands across private and public land on the Northern Plains of Victoria.

“The La Niña climate cycle facilitated a wide-spread and prolonged breeding event, which is likely to have boosted their numbers,” said Laura Chant, project manager at North Central CMA.

“Also, it’s highly likely the habitat management and protection measures we, and several partner organizations, have taken over many years to protect this incredible bird are proving to be highly effective — including conservation covenants and strategic grazing of conservation reserves.”

Aaron Grinter, Natural Environment Program officer at DELWP, said monitoring the elusive bird is a challenge.

“Plains Wanderers are highly cryptic; they are almost never seen during the day when most active because of their excellent camouflage and wariness of predators, making detectability a major challenge for researchers,” said Grinter.

Significant concerns remain

Nugent said although the survey results are welcomed by conservationists, there remains significant concerns for the future of Plains Wanderers.

“In Victoria, habitat loss driven by conversion of native grasslands to croplands is a major threat. Today, there is estimated to be less than four percent of the pre-European extent of native grasslands left on the Northern Plains,” Nugent said. “With so little habitat remaining, the population will continue to be vulnerable; fox predation may also be a threatening process but remains a knowledge gap.”

About the Plains Wanderer

The Plains Wanderer is the sole member of its taxonomic family—Pedionomidae—and is listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List, and under both the Commonwealth and Victorian governments. Based on its taxonomic distinctiveness and high risk of extinction, the species is ranked the number one priority for conservation action among birds of the world by the Zoological Society of London.

Thanks to La Trobe University for providing this news.

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