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Plains-wanderer party: could this endangered species be on the rise in South Australia?

Published 09 Aug 2022

National conservation not-for-profit Bush Heritage Australia has recorded 11 critically endangered Plains-wanderers on its Boolcoomatta Reserve, Adnyamathanha and Wilyakali Country in South Australia during the most recent survey.

This number is the largest documented at any one time since Bush Heritage purchased the reserve in 2006 and is the latest in a string of good news for the species typically known for its threatened species status and being notoriously difficult to spot.

The recordings were made during a recent field trip with Bush Heritage ecologist Graeme Finlayson and PhD student Saskia Gerhardy, and follows recent national headlines of a separate major Plains-wanderer bird breeding event in Victoria. According to Graeme Finlayson, there are various signs that the species is also improving in South Australia in response to recent wet weather.

“Four months after the drought broke we started picking up calls on our song meters, and in October last year, we started noticing a ridiculous amount of Plains-wanderer calls on our song meter grid at Boolcoomatta, including breeding calls,” said Graeme.

“I’ve spent years searching for Plains-wanderers at Boolcoomatta and I've never seen anything like this number of birds. It is glaringly obvious that they are responding to the recent favourable conditions.”

Plains-wanderer. Photo Andrea Tschirner.

The Plains-wanderer is a small quail-like, ground-dwelling bird that is endemic to Australia and the only member of the Pedionomidae family, an unusual genetic lineage of birds that evolved in Gondwana over 100 million years ago.

Once widespread throughout the lowland native grasslands of coastal and subcoastal eastern Australia, the onset of widespread cultivation and agriculture has led to the loss of much of the Plains-wanderer's habitat.

There are little over 1000 Plains-wanderers thought to be left in the wild, with under 10% of that population estimated to be living in South Australia. With less than 85 confirmed sighting in South Australia since 1840, little is known about the species residency within the state.

PhD student Saskia Gerhardy is investigating the status and distribution of Plains-wanderers throughout South Australia and was able to capture eight of the birds during this trip for genetic sampling.

“Despite being a critically endangered species, there is still so much we still don't know about Plains-wanderers, especially in South Australia. Through the research we are conducting at Boolcoomatta we can start to better understand their behaviour, preference in habitat, and responses to factors such as predation and drought,” said Saskia Gerhardy.

The results of Saskia’s research at Boolcoomatta will help inform a national program to assist recovery efforts for the iconic species, alongside the national Plains-wanderer Recovery Team and other partners.

Recent rains have also led to an increase in other bird species at Boolcoomatta including Inland Dotterels, Little Button Quails and Stubble Quails.

Boolcoomatta is a 63,000-hectare nature reserve on Adnyamathanha and Wilyakali Country 100km west of Broken Hill that is managed by Bush Heritage Australia. It boasts sweeping plains of saltbush shrublands and ephemeral wetlands and supports species such as Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies, Emus and White-winged Fairywrens

About Bush Heritage

Bush Heritage Australia is a leading not-for-profit conservation organisation that protects ecosystems and wildlife across the continent. We use the best science, conservation and right-way knowledge to deliver landscape-scale impact. We’re on the ground, working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the agricultural sector to make sure our impact is deep, sustainable and collaborative.

Media contact

Coco McGrath 
Social Media & PR Coordinator, Bush Heritage Australia 
0455 635 035

Portable Document FileCould the endangered Plains-wanderer be on the rise in SA? 

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