Trust For Nature

Grey-crowned Babblers

Trust for Nature is actively involved in conserving this special bird wherever possible in partnership with the Friends of the Grey-crowned Babbler Group.

Photo by: Dean Ingwersen

Grey-crowned Babblers are an endangered bird that primarily live on private land. 

The Grey-crowned Babbler lives in open woodlands. It prefers mature eucalypt trees interspersed with younger trees and shrubs and other ground cover.

The Babbler is highly social and lives in groups of up to 15 birds. All of these birds help to defend the territory and to raise the young, with more young being raised by larger groups. At night, the entire family roosts in the same nest.

The nests are easily seen in trees and understorey and look like footballs made of twigs and leaves. The Babblers eat insects they find on the ground among leaves and fallen branches or behind bark on trees.

Fragmentation causes social disruption

The major cause of the Grey-crowned Babbler’s decline in Victoria has been the loss of their preferred woodland habitat. These areas have been cleared for agriculture, wood collection and mining. As a consequence Babbler populations have shrunk in size and have become isolated from each other. The number of birds in each family group has also declined, because smaller populations of Babblers produce fewer young. For this highly social species, therefore, habitat fragmentation has caused major social disruption.

To conserve the Babbler, Dr Doug Robinson of Trust for Nature and the Friends Group says there have been some successes, but that the low Babbler numbers are still a concern.

”Overall, we estimate that the population in Victoria has declined by at least 90% over the past 150 years and now consists of just six hundred families – so the species is still at a high risk of extinction. But in those areas where we have focused our conservation efforts, we have generally seen positive responses in terms of survival and breeding success. We know now that it is possible to help Grey-crowned Babblers – it’s just a matter of having the resources and the time to do it.”

Given their understanding of the threats to the Grey-crowned Babbler, the Friends of the Grey-crowned Babbler Group have focused their efforts on four major activities to:

  • Increase the total amount of habitat available for Babblers in priority areas by encouraging the protection and restoration of habitat on private land.
  • Increase the quality and availability of habitat at known Babbler sites to increase group size and breeding success.
  • Increase the connectivity between isolated groups or patches of habitat.  This creates more opportunities for birds to disperse and colonise.
  • Undertake regular surveys of Babbler populations to watch population trends and to determine the effectiveness of their conservation activities.

Photo by: Chris Tzaros

Friends try to save one family at a time

The Group’s conservation mantra is to try to save the species one family at a time. Doug Robinson says he never imagined people would commit to the cause for such a long time.

“I started studying the Grey-crowned Babbler back in 1991. And in 2000 a group of us formed the Friends of the Grey-crowned Babbler Group with a few other like-minded people.  But here we are, ten years on and those same people are still committed.”

In 2009, with funding support from the Norman Wettenhall Foundation and Goulburn Broken CMA, researchers from the University of Melbourne and Trust for Nature compared babbler populations at sites where landholders had protected habitat compared with sites where there was no habitat improvement.

Their study showed that Babbler groups were more likely to have persisted at sites where there had been habitat works, breeding success was higher at sites with additional habitat and the number of young raised per family at sites with additional habitat was nearly double that of Babbler families at sites with no additional habitat.

The commitment of the Friends Group is clearly paying off – their efforts have been pivotal in maintaining populations of the Grey-crowned Babbler.

Yahoo-Yahoo, the occassional newsletter published by the friends of the Grey-crowned Babbler and is available below:

Number 9 - June 2009

Number 10 - July 2010