There’s nothing plain about the vanishing grasslands wanderer

September 14, 2017

A male plains-wanderer (left) with his female partner (right).

IT WAS threatened species day last Thursday and local farmers on the Patho Plains have renewed their determination to save the Plains-Wanderer, one of Australia’s most critically endangered bird species.

The bird used to be found in native grasslands around Australia before 95 per cent of its habitat was lost to cultivation for crops, pastures, and urban development.

But local farmers Andrew and Faye Bail, Bill and Sandra McGillivray and Andy and Judy McGillivray have fought to protect what remains of the ground-dwelling birds’ habitat by putting key areas of their farmland under legal covenant.

The farmers are part of the Northern Plains Conservation Management Network, which is supported by Trust for Nature through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

President of the Northern Plains CMN, Faye Bail, said she still has Plains-Wanderers around her property and wants to make sure they can continue to have a home there.

“I wanted to give them a hand because they’re so rare and unique,” she said.

Of the world’s 9993 species of birds, researchers have ranked the Plains-Wanderer first among Australian birds and fourth in the world in terms of their evolutionary distinctness and extinction risk.

There is estimated to only be between 250-1000 birds left.

To help protect the bird’s grassland habitats the farmers have been provided assistance with ‘fencing to soil type’, which allows them to graze the sensitive red and red-brown soils early and then move their stock to heavier grey soils to allow the soil time to recover.

“Fencing to soil type has really made a difference to how we run our stock across the property,” Mrs Bail said. “It has allowed us to manage our red soil much more conservatively, protecting the vital habitat for the Plains-Wanderer and other threatened species.”

Female Plains-Wanderers are larger and more brightly coloured than males, which do most of the incubation and all of the rearing of their 2-5 chicks. Females may pair sequentially with two males in the same season.

Plains-Wanderers have demonstrated their ability to tolerate a range of grazing regimes but they are not able to survive when the grasslands become very dense after prolonged heavy rains or alternatively, really bare after prolonged dry periods.

The Northern Plains CMN members, along with experts such as Plains-Wanderer authority Dr David Baker-Gabb, play an active role in the Victorian Plains-Wanderer Recovery Group working with Zoos Victoria in developing a captive breeding program at Werribee Zoo.

The Northern Plains CMN is also working on ensuring the habitat on the Northern Plains on both public and private land remains suitable for the Plains-Wanderer to survive and thrive.

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