Australia see rebound in world's most endangered bird

The plains-wanderer is endemic to eastern Australia and has its origins in an ancient 100-million-year-old lineage of birds. PHOTO: STEWART MONCKTON/TWITTER

SYDNEY (XINHUA) - Researchers from Australia's La Trobe University have discovered a major breeding event in the plains-wander, a crucial sign that the native bird's population is being slowly brought back from the brink of extinction.

The finding, published in a governmental report released on Sunday (July 10), revealed a survey of plains-wanderers in the Australian state of Victoria's north, which showed that the number of birds in the area had more than doubled from under 50 to over 100 since 2018.

"A further encouraging sign was that 85 per cent of monitoring sites supported Plains-wanderers - the highest percentage of sites since surveys began 12 years ago," said team member and La Trobe University PhD candidate Dan Nugent.

The plains-wanderer is endemic to eastern Australia and has its origins in an ancient 100-million-year-old lineage of birds. The bird's conservation status is so dire that the Zoological Society of London ranked it the bird species most in need of conservation action in the world.

The monitoring project was conducted in partnership with the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA), a local governmental body which monitors waterways in regional Victoria.

The plains-wanders are a "highly cryptic" species as they are almost never seen during the day and have excellent camouflage to their grassland habitat backdrop - a great defence against predators but a major challenge for conservation management.

To overcome this the team used thermal imaging cameras to pick up the tiny birds often hidden in thick grasses.

Project Manager at North Central CMA Laura Chant said the population boom was likely the result of both human and non-human interventions.

"The La Nina climate cycle facilitated a wide-spread and prolonged breeding event, which is likely to have boosted their numbers," said Chant.

She added that ongoing conservation work including habitat management and the establishment of conservation reserves have likely played a key role in the rebound.

Nugent said that although the findings are welcome news, the fact that Australia's grasslands, the plains-wanderer's primary habitat, have been reduced to just 4 percent of their pre-European settlement coverage, which means the species remains in constant threat.

"In Victoria, habitat loss driven by conversion of native grasslands to croplands is a major threat," said Nugent. "With so little habitat remaining, the population will continue to be vulnerable."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.