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Australia's birds

Threats from introduced predators, climate change and habitat loss…

Many native Australian bird species are declining. Birds of garden, water, scrub and woodland are showing marked falls in their populations says a new report by Birds Australia (BirdLife in Australia). The encouraging news is that the status of some species is improving as a result of conservation action.

This is the sixth ‘the state of Australia’s birds’ report, and presents an up-to-date overview of the health of bird populations in Australia and the main challenges to their sustainability. This 2008 report focuses on trends in bird populations revealed by around 50 long-term monitoring programs that have been running for up to 40 years.

Trends in bird populations are mixed, but more species are in decline than were reported in 2003. Common birds are far less common than they once were, for example populations of the familiar Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen have slumped.

Many, and perhaps most, of our native birds are in decline for a range of reasons including habitat loss and introduced predators, said Dr Graeme Hamilton - Birds Australia CEO.

The report documents that many of Australia’s waterbird populations are in serious decline due to a combination of the severe drought – especially around the Murray–Darling Basin - and poor water management practices. Australia’s shorebirds are being closely monitored to ensure they do not share the same fate as the waterbirds. Nevertheless, numbers of migratory shorebirds, such as Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis and Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, which fly thousands of kilometres from Siberia each year, have fallen sharply in recent years, as have populations of resident shorebirds, such as Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae.

Birds in the bush are faring little better, but still declining. Woodland birds, such as robins, thornbills, fantails and treecreepers, which feed on insects on or near the ground, have all declined in southeastern Australia due to habitat clearance and other modification. Birds of the heathland, such as Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus in Western Australia and Endangered Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus in southeastern Queensland, have also reached perilously low numbers, due to bushfires.The encouraging news is that where active management is undertaken success in improving the state of bird populations is more prevalent than failure. This is especially true of Globally Threatened birds, such as Gould's Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera and Superb Parrot Polytelis swainsonii. Both Vulnerable species have been actively managed, with recovery plans that have seen habitat protected, rehabilitated or replanted, predators controlled, nest-boxes provided and captive-bred birds released.

Although the report deals with birds, the findings have much broader implications for nature and society - birds are indicators of national quality of life. This loss of bird biodiversity is serious as it will also reflect the loss in other groups such as mammals, reptiles, and plants, commented Dr Hamilton.

Birds Australia have done an impressive job of analysing the latest information on trends in bird populations, said Alison Stattersfield – BirdLife’s Head of Science. Their findings are extremely concerning and mirror those presented in BirdLife International’s ‘State of the world’s birds’ report published last year. Globally, there is increasing evidence from long-term monitoring studies of major changes in bird communities and their habitats, with many species declining and few increasing. Our conservation efforts need to be geared up tremendously to halt this loss of biodiversity.

All the news, good and bad is covered in ‘the state of Australia’s birds 2008’.

4th July 2014