NSW's critically endangered plains-wanderers released after successful breeding program - petsitterbank

NSW’s critically endangered plains-wanderers released after successful breeding program

Nicknamed “Goldilocks”, it is a miracle these tiny, critically endangered birds have found somewhere to call home.

Also known as plains-wanderers, 10 of the animals, which were hatched in captivity, have been released in native grassland near Hay, in NSW’s south-west.

It is hoped the inaugural project will boost Australia’s dwindling population, estimated to be at less than 1,000 in the wild.

But the breeding program would not have happened without the help of a dedicated team of conservationists and farmers, including Bert Matthews at Bedarbidgal Station.

“Part of the management in the Paddocks for Plains-wanderer project is to maintain ground cover for the plains-wanderer to still be able to inhabit the grasslands,” he said.

“Overgrazing is the biggest deterrent to the bird because it likes to have ground cover that’s sparse, but not too sparse or too congested.

“Local Land Services have helped fund containment areas, so we bring our sheep in and feed them in smaller areas closer to the infrastructure.”

The project is supported by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust, Local Land Services, Taronga Conservation Society and the state government’s Saving Our Species program.

More plains-wanderers are expected to be released in 2022.(Supported by Alex Pike)

Farming practices vital for native species

Mr Matthews first found the creatures on his property when plains-wanderer researchers visited in the late 1990s, and has since turned to holistic practices.

“We rotationally grace our stock anyway, so 90 per cent of our property is under rest at any particular day of the week,” he said.

A close up of a bird's head and yellow beak.
There are less than 1,000 plains-wanderers left in the wild.(Supported by Alex Pike)

Six of the 10 birds were released at Mr Matthews’ property, and Taronga Western Plains Zoo keeper Mark O’Reardon said they were thriving.

“The birds weigh 40 to 70 grams. They have a 1.5 gram transmitter attached to a tiny little thing on their backs.

“We need to monitor these birds for up to 12 weeks to know how they’re getting on.”

A tiny bird steps out of a carrier onto dirt.
The plains-wanderer requires very specific habitat to survive.(Supported by Alex Pike)

Mr O’Reardon said feral foxes and cats had been heavily baited in the area to reduce the birds’ predators, but he was realistic about their survival.

“It’s not the end of the world if one or two get taken, we’re expecting that,” he said.

Too little, too late for some

James Tremain from the Nature Conservation Council of NSW said intervention to protect the plains-wanderer should have happened sooner.

“I wish we hadn’t got to this place,” he said.

“In NSW, the rates of land clearing have doubled over the past 10 years and that’s driving a lot of species to extinction.

Mr Tremain said climate change was going to wreak havoc on the bird’s chances of survival in the future.

“When you’re dealing with a species that’s already on the brink, those sorts of changes can really tip them over.”

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