Iconic Australian bird facing extinction within 20 years: Study

The regent honeyeater was once one of Australia's most prevalent species but the population has dwindled to fewer than 300 as a result of habitat loss. PHOTO: BIRDLIFE.ORG.AU

CANBERRA (XINHUA) - An iconic Australian bird species is facing extinction within 20 years without urgent conservation action, scientists have warned.

In a study published recently, researchers from Australian National University found that current intensive conservation efforts for the regent honeyeater are not sufficient to save the species.

A songbird endemic to south-eastern Australia, the regent honeyeater was once one of the continent's most prevalent species but the population has dwindled to fewer than 300 as a result of habitat loss.

"The regent honeyeater population has been decimated by the loss of over 90 per cent of their preferred woodland habitats," Professor Robert Heinsohn, lead author of the study from the university, said in a media release on Thursday (Jan 13).

"Less than 80 years ago, it was one of the most commonly encountered species, ranging from Adelaide to Rockhampton. Now it is on track to follow the dodo into extinction."

Prof Heinsohn's team undertook six years' of intensive fieldwork to better understand the dramatic honeyeater population decline.

Despite the bird's nomadic nature making the work difficult, the team discovered that the honeyeater's breeding success rate has declined due to predation at the nest.

The team used their findings to build population models to predict what will happen to wild populations, identifying three key conservation priorities to save the species - doubling the nest success, increasing the number of zoo-bred birds released into the wild, and protecting habitat.

"Without more habitat, re-introductions and nest protection efforts will be futile, because the flock sizes will never reach the critical mass needed for the birds to breed safely without our protection," Prof Heinsohn said.

"Our study provides both hope and a dire warning, we can save these birds, but it will take a lot of effort and resources over a long time to pull it off."

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