Here in South Australia, there has been some interest generated in the media in recent weeks about the plight of the Hooded Plover. A pair of this species was found to be nesting on one of our popular beaches. There was much concern over protecting the eggs from damage or predation.
This tiny bird is widespread along the coast of South Australia and all of southern Australia, including Tasmania. Nowhere is it common, and everywhere it is threatened. It is estimated that fewer than 2500 of these lovely birds exist. And during the summer months, when they nesting, they are most vulnerable.
During the summer months, when they nesting, they are most vulnerable. They make their nest by making a small depression in the beach sand. In this hollow, they lay and hatch their eggs. Surveys have shown that as few as only 2.5% of eggs actually make it to adulthood. That is a shocking statistic; it is NOT a typo.
The eggs can be damaged in many ways:
- The eggs can be trampled on by people, dogs, horses or vehicles (we still have some beaches with car access here in South Australia – all in Hooded Plover nesting areas).
- Overheating when the eggs are exposed to the burning sun after the adult is scared from the nest.
- Eggs left too long and becoming too cold without the warmth of the adult sitting. This also happens when the adult is chased from the nest by the presence of humans, dogs, and other animals.
- The eggs can also be taken by predators such as foxes, cats, ravens, magpies, gulls and eagles.
If the eggs survive to hatch, the young can die:
- By being run over by vehicles, or stepped on by humans.
- Eaten by predators like foxes, cats, and birds of prey.
What you can do
You may be thinking that you can’t do much to save these, and other, threatened birds.
Just by being aware of our wildlife when you go to the beach this summer, and drawing the plight of birds like the Hooded Plover to the attention of family, friends and other beach goers, you can do your bit to save them for future generations.
I don’t often make appeals for money on this site; in fact, I am sure I have never done so. This is different. Birdlife Australia is running a special appeal for these little birds this summer. You can donate here.
Become a Member
Why not become a member of Birdlife Australia? I have been a member for many decades. They pour large amounts of money into bird conservation, advocacy and research. Membership also provides you with discounts on a range of products and services, and you get their colourful quarterly magazine as well. You can join here.
This post comes with an apology to my many non-Australian readers. The information I am sharing today is for Australian readers only. Sorry about that. Normal transmissions will resume shortly.
Over the next week or two people around Australia are being encouraged to go out into their backyards and watch the birds. That’s a great idea. The Aussie Backyard Bird Count is more than just looking at our birds, however. You are encouraged to not only look at the birds you see, you are also asked to write down a list of the species you see and how many of each species. Then you are asked to submit these sightings to the Aussie Backyard Bird Count (see link below).
How, when and where
All it takes is twenty minutes. It doesn’t have to be in your garden or backyard. It could the park across the road, the oval down the street, in the school playground or even on a picnic in your local patch. It doesn’t matter if you are having trouble identifying a bird – the site even has an app for that. Great – use their bird identifier. If that doesn’t help, you can leave that bird out.
The 2015 Aussie Backyard Bird count runs from October 19th to the 25th, but you can start straight away. People are already submitting their sightings.
This Australia-wide survey is an annual event which gives our conservationists a great opportunity to get a snapshot of the bird health of our nation. By participating you will contribute valuable data to our already good knowledge of our birds.
Update 27th October: the survey is now over with over 1.08 million bird sightings.
I was a little amused last week when there was quite a flurry of correspondence in the Letters to the Editor section of our state-wide newspaper, The Advertiser. A reader wrote in complaining that something should be done about Myna birds in his suburb which he considered pests. He claimed that they were chasing away all the other birds, especially the smaller ones such at wrens and thornbills.
The next day the paper printed a whole page of rebuttals – or rather, a raft of claims of mistaken identity. Several years ago I, too, experienced getting into a long discussion with someone who was adamant that there were Mynas around the Salisbury area in the north of the city. They just would not be convinced otherwise.
The fact remains that there are currently no Common Mynas (also known as Indian Mynas) in South Australia. This introduced species is, however, relatively common in the eastern states and their range is increasing. Only last week my 7yo grandson reported that they now have them in their garden in Artarmon for the first time. (I have seen them up the street but never in their garden.) I have included a photo of a Common Myna below, taken several years ago in the Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, a few suburbs away from my son’s home.
The species that the correspondent was concerned about was the Noisy Miner, an Australian native honeyeater species as shown in the photo above, taken a few years ago in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. The Noisy Miner is a gregarious and mostly aggressive species which can be very dominant in some situations. Their bossy ways discourage smaller species like wrens, thornbills and other honeyeaters until those species leave and never return. One of the ways of combating their habits is to plant up gardens with smaller Australian native plants because they prefer more open, grassy, lawned areas.
As an interesting aside, we do not have Noisy Miners on our five acre block on the edge of Murray Bridge. They are relatively common along the river reserves and throughout the town, but in over 30 years they have never – to my knowledge – visited out property, though I have expected them for some years now. I did see one small family group about 500 metres down the side road from our place, but so far they have not moved any closer. We certainly do not want them invading our orchard – the Mallee Ringneck parrots are pest enough in the fruit trees. (Placing bird netting over the trees mostly works effectively.)
The threat of Common Mynas
The following is a quote from our government department PIRSA (Primary Industry):
The species is listed by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) as one of 100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species alongside Common Starlings, Red Foxes and Cane Toads. The Common Myna is a moderate pest of agriculture causing damage to orchard fruits such as fig, apple, pear, strawberry, guava, mango and grape. It also damages standing cereal crops including maize, wheat and rice.
In several countries it is considered an environmental pest and is reported to eat eggs and young birds and mammals including endangered species. The Common Myna aggressively competes for nest hollows and food, adversely affecting the breeding success of other birds and hollow-nesting mammals. It has been observed
attacking terns on islands as well as taking the eggs of other sea birds, possibly interfering with those birds’ breeding and general behaviour. The Common Myna is also known to spread avian malaria to other birds.
- Website: Primary Industry and Regions South Australia – this page lists 6 PDF documents relating to potential pest bird species in South Australia: Common Myna, Canada Goose, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Common House Crow, Indian Ring-neck Parakeet and Barbary Dove. It also has other documents relating to potential animal pests such as the Cane Toad.
- This is not a minor threat
- Birds in the Sydney CBD
- Noisy Miners causing problems
- Great birding moments #10 Noisy Miner Adelaide Botanic Gardens
The Night Parrot has long been thought to be extinct.
This has been the presumed status of the species for many decades. In fact, the majority of confirmed sightings were in the period 1870 to 1900. Since then, several dead birds have been found on roadsides and there have been tantalising reports of birders getting brief glimpses of the parrot in car headlights. The chance was always there; did it still exist in sustainable numbers – or any numbers at all?
On our many travels I will often challenge my wife to be on the lookout for two species when travelling at night: the Plains Wanderer and the Night Parrot. Sightings of either species would be most unlikely and being a supportive and loving person she agrees to keep a sharp eye on the lookout. We always enjoy this verbal banter with a little laughter.
However, the chances of seeing a Night Parrot have risen slightly in the last year or so. Ever so slightly. From 0% to approximately 0.001% – or thereabouts. Or to put it in Australian slang terms – from Buckley’s to Forget it!
Some facts we know about the Night Parrot:
- It is nocturnal – making it just that bit more difficult to observe.
- It’s preferred habitat in spinifex grasslands in the arid interior of Australia – that big space in the middle where very few travel and even fewer live, limiting chance sightings even further.
- It is small, green and yellow and dumpy, and runs and hops in preference to flying.
- It shelters in the clumps of the spinifex during the day making it almost impossible to find during the day – unless stepped on. Which you wouldn’t want to do to such a rare bird.
- It has never been filmed – until recently.
- Not much is known about the habits of the species, but that is about to change.
After well over 17,000 hours of field work over the span of a decade, this species was rediscovered and filmed by John Young.
In 2013 naturalist and wildlife photographer John Young captured several photos and a few seconds of video footage of a live bird in western Queensland.
After a search spanning many years, John was finally rewarded by an incredibly close-up encounter with a Night Parrot – often considered the ‘holy grail’ for birdwatchers and naturalists.
Global interest in the discovery was so intense that the exact location of this only known population remains a closely guarded secret to protect the birds from disturbance.
Quoted from the Bush Heritage Australia website.
What is interesting about the Bush Heritage article is the 3:34 minute video showing the bird and the habitat in which it lives, plus more information about efforts to conserve the area. There is also an appeal to raise money in this important conservation project.
I am sorry that I do not have a photo of my own to share with you. My wife will just have to keep looking.
Blue-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus)
I don’t feature non-Australian birds very often on this site and I should correct this oversight. I have in the past shown birds photographed in Nepal, Thailand, Ethiopia, Morocco and Spain. (You can search for these using the search facility above.)
For two reasons I would love to go birding in Colombia, South America. First, it boasts the world’s largest list of bird species as well as the largest list of endemic species – that is, birds only found there and nowhere else. Second, I would love to visit the city of Cali, the birthplace of my two grandchildren.
News has come in recently of the rediscovery of a species of hummingbird, the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon cyanolaemus) which had been thought to be extinct. The last sighting was as long ago as 1946. It must have been an exciting moment for the birders who made the discovery. To then manage to get the first ever photograph of the species must made the discovery even sweeter.
On the downside, the area in the Santa Marta mountains in Colombia where the birds were seen is under severe threat from clearing and burning by local farmers. I hope that provisions can be made to preserve both the birds and the environment on which they rely for their existence.
I can’t show the photo of the bird here for copyright reasons, so go to the link below. This will also take you to an interesting article about the bird’s rediscovery.