More than 13,000 hectares of prime plains-wanderer habitat in south-west New South Wales has been conserved with the help of rural landholders.

Key points:

  • NSW landholders have exceeded expectations in protecting 13,000ha of plains-wanderer habitat
  • The bird is listed as critically endangered nationally
  • Eight plains-wanderers have been released from captivity into northern Victoria

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

There are estimates of only 500 in the wild, found mainly in NSW’s Riverina and the northern plains in Victoria, with some hanging on in south-east South Australia.

The elusive ground-dwelling bird is listed as critically endangered nationally.

About 25 landholders have now set aside room for its habitat across about 200 kilometres from Hay to Jerilderie in the south.

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

A small bird standing on grass.

Plains-wanderer birds are often hard to see during the day due to their shy nature.(Supplied: Taronga Conservation Society Australia)

Senior threatened species officer with Saving our Species, David Parker, said the land conserved exceeds initial targets.

“Our partnerships with the landholders have protected 13,000-plus hectares of plains-wanderer habitat,” he said.

“We want to give a big shout out to these landholders who not only met but exceeded our initial 10,000-hectare target, although we’re always looking for more suitable habitat.

Mr Parker said 95 per cent of the bird’s prime habitat is native grass on private land.

“In an average year the bird requires 60 per cent bare ground and about 40 per cent grass, with a bit of litter as well,” he said.

Farming and conservation

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

A plains wanderer bird looks towards the camera

Plains-wanderer populations in Australia are dwindling.(ABC My Photo contributor Sam Matthews)

“It’s definitely proven that farming and conservation can work together,” he said. 

“The landholders agree to manage the land for the long-term.

Mr Parker said the landholders were already quite involved in the protection of the plains-wanderer, baiting predators like foxes and controlling boxthorn plants which can hide cats.

The landholders are provided with incentives including stock proof fencing, stock management areas, and feral pest control.

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

“With the landholders working together with the government department, and particularly the interest and the drive the landholders have got, I think there’s a bright future for the species,” he said.

Victorian release

Two zoo keepers wearing caps hold boxes of birds in front of a small charter flight in a hangar.

Keepers Mark O’Riordan and Steve Kleinig loaded birds onto the plane to Victoria.(Supplied: Taronga Conservation Society Australia)

Work has also been underway to increase populations in Victoria.

Eight plains-wanderers bred at Taronga Western Plains Zoo and Taronga Zoo have been released into the wild in the northern plains of Victoria as part of a trial research project.

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

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Prior to departing Taronga Western Plains Zoo, the birds underwent health checks to ensure they were all in optimum condition for release into the wild.

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

“What releases like this remind us of is to have faith and confidence in our conservation work, and through research and science we can, and are, making a difference for the future of our threatened species.”

Critically endangered ‘Goldilocks’ birds gifted 13,000ha of habitat by farmers
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