Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

More than 13,000 acres of primary plains-migrating habitats in southwestern New South Wales have been preserved through rural areas.

Basically known as the Goldilocks bird, because it does not live in areas that are too dense or too sparse with vegetation, the plains are one of Australia’s rarest birds.

There are estimates of only 500 in the wild, mainly found in NSW’s Riverina and the northern plains of Victoria, some of which hang in south-eastern South Australia.

The elusive terrestrial bird is listed as critically endangered nationally.

About 25 landowners have now set aside space for their habitat across about 200 kilometers from Hay to Jerilderie in the south.

They are part of the Paddocks for Plains Hiker project in partnership with Local Land Services in Riverine Plains.

A small bird standing on grass.
Common migratory birds are often difficult to see during the day due to their shy nature.(Supplied by: Taronga Conservation Society Australia)

Senior endangered species officer with Saving our Species, David Parker, said the preserved area exceeds the original targets.

“Our partnerships with the landowners have protected 13,000 plus acres of plains,” he said.

“We want to give a big shout out to these landowners who not only met but exceeded our original target of 10,000 acres, even though we are always looking for a more suitable habitat.

Parker said 95 percent of the bird’s primary habitat is natural grass on private land.

“In an average year, the bird requires 60 percent bare ground and about 40 percent grass, even with little waste,” he said.

Agriculture and conservation

Parker said the project is a testament to how agriculture and conservation can go hand in hand.

A bird of prey looks at the camera
Plain migratory populations in Australia are declining.(ABC My Photo contributor Sam Matthews)

“It is certainly proven that agriculture and conservation can work together,” he said.

“The landowners agree to manage the land in the long term.

Parker said the landowners were already quite involved in protecting the plains, biting predators like foxes and fighting cactus plants that can hide cats.

The landowners are provided with incentives, including population-proof fencing, stock management areas and wildlife pest control.

Parker hopes one day that the shy bird would become independent again.

“Since the landowners are working with the government department, and especially the interest and drive that the owners have gained, I think there is a bright future for the species,” he said.

Victorian release

Two zoo owners wearing caps hold boxes of birds in front of a small charter flight in a hangar.
Goalkeepers Mark O’Riordan and Steve Kleinig loaded birds on the plane to Victoria.(Supplied by: Taronga Conservation Society Australia)

Efforts have also been made to increase the population of Victoria.

Eight plain walkers bred in the Taronga Western Plains Zoo and Taronga Zoo have been released into the wilds in the northern plains of Victoria as part of an experimental research project.

These are the first birds released just five years after the group Paddocks for Plains-wanderers began helping save the critically endangered species from extinction.

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Before leaving the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, the birds underwent health checks to ensure they were all in optimal condition to escape into the wild.

“The birds were then transported to Victoria via a special charter flight, acclimatized on arrival for two days and then released by Zoos Victoria’s team of conservationists,” Parker said.

“What publications like this remind us of are having faith and confidence in our conservation work, and through research and science we can, and are, making a difference for the future of our endangered species.”

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