Australian iconic birds Kookaburra and magpie at risk of extinction

Study based on 427,000 surveys by birdwatchers and researchers in Australia found serious declines in native bird sightings, possibly due to feral predator, habitat loss and climate change

Some of Australia’s best-known birds, including the laughing kookaburra,  the magpie and the willie wagtail, are in serious decline and at risk of becoming endangered in some parts of the country, according to a a study of national sightings.

The State of Australia’s Birds report found common birds, as well as lesser-known species, have suffered surprising drops in their numbers, in what has been described as a “wake-up call” for bird conservation.

The study, based on 427,000 surveys conducted by thousands of birdwatchers and researchers across Australia over the past 15 years, found sightings of the well-known laughing kookaburra declined by about 30 per cent in the country’s east and by 50 per cent in the south-east.

Magpie numbers declined less consistently, but dropped in four of seven regions including a 31 per cent reduction on the heavily-populated east coast.

Of Australia’s 137 terrestrial bird species, only 10 per cent showed a “consistent overall trend” the report found, with most birds, including magpies and willie wagtails, appeared to be declining in some regions, while increasing in others.

Editor of Australian Birdlife Sean Dooley said the decline of common birds in parts of Australia was a surprise to researchers. He said while predators including cats, habitat loss and even changes in climate might be to blame, more research was needed before certain species became endangered.

“The stuff that Birdlife Australia has come out with is showing is that a lot of birds that we assumed were really common and sailing along quite fine are showing significant declines,” he told 774 ABC Melbourne.

“It’s a surprise that common birds that we see everyday like magpies or kookaburras could be in decline,” editor of Australian Birdlife Sean Dooley told AFP.

“It just goes to show you the value of large-scale, broad-scale systemised surveys because if you were relying on the anecdotal evidence of bird watchers and other people, they’d be saying that, ‘no, of course magpies are still common’.”

The report was supported by the government and two universities.

Australian Govt targetiing 10 species for priorioty action: Environment Minister

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who launched the report in Melbourne, said his government was targeting 10 species for “priority action“, including the helmeted honeyeater, hooded plover, plains-wanderer and boobook owl.

“I want to bring these birds back far enough from the brink to survive in the wild long-term,” Hunt said in a statement.

“I want future generations to enjoy the colour, movement and song they bring to our lives.”

The minister pledged Aus$100,000 (US$74,610) towards a project to tackle the 90 percent plunge in plains-wanderer populations since 2001, and another Aus$40,000 to studying two hooded plover sub-populations on the New South Wales state’s south coast.

Scientists have warned that Australia faces a growing risk of species extinctions. Since the arrival of British settlers more than 200 years ago, almost half of the world’s extinctions of mammals are believed have occurred in Australia.

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About the Author: Akhtar Jamal

Tribune International