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Searching for birds in Birchip

Listening to hours of audio might seem like an unorthodox way of searching for a bird, but it is how Trust for Nature is trying to find out if there are any of the critically endangered Plains-wanderer birds left in the wild in Birchip.

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Searching for birds in Birchip

Listening to hours of audio might seem like an unorthodox way of searching for a bird, but it is how Trust for Nature is trying to find out if there are any of the critically endangered Plains-wanderer birds left in the wild in Birchip.  

It’s thought that most of their habitat in the area has been cleared, but there are signs the elusive bird could still be living there.

Normally searches are done by spotlights at night, but recently song meters, a recording device that detects frequency of bird calls, have been used to understand its whereabouts. The meters have been used in other parts of Australia to detect Plains-wanderers.

The bird is extremely well camouflaged so it is often not seen during the day. It’s estimated there are between just 250 and 1,000 Plains-wanderers left in the wild nationally.

Trust for Nature’s Deanna Marshall said there’s reason to believe the bird might still exist in Birchip.

She said, “In 2000, the late ecologist Rick Webster identified six Plains-wanderers on four properties in Birchip and another six properties that he deemed as having suitable habitat.

“Since then most of this habitat has been cultivated but we hope there are remnants left that are providing habitat to the birds, so we are working with the local farmers and landowners to identify what habitat remains and to see if there are any birds in the area.”

This work is being done in close collaboration with the Birchip Landcare Group which has installed five song meters so far. 

Birchip Landcare President Brian Lea said, “The landowners that we approached to install the song meters were very cooperative and supportive and would be extremely excited if we were to pick up a sound from a Plains-wanderer.

“When mentioning our project it’s encouraging to hear from various land holders that they think they have seen a Plains-wanderer sometime over the last few years.”

The Trust has been working with Zoos Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Parks Victoria, catchment management authorities and other partners from the Plains-wanderer national recovery team to establish a captive-breeding population that can be released back onto land that is protected with a conservation covenant.

Conservation covenants are agreements on property titles that enable private landowners to protect nature forever, even after the property changes hands.

It is important to not only find out if the birds are still in the area but to also identify habitat that might be suitable for their release and partner with landowners to place conservation covenants on suitable land.

Since the early 2000s, the Trust has worked with landowners in the Northern Plains to protect more than 4,000ha.

Trust for Nature is a not-for-profit organisation that relies on the generosity of supporters to help us protect Victoria’s amazing biodiversity.

This project is supported by Mallee CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.


Main photo: Members of the Birchip Landcare Group and Trust for Nature discussing remnant grassland areas that are being ground-truthed as part of the project.

Inset: Plains-wanderers. Photo courtesy David Baker-Gabb