Breeding boom for rare plains wanderers

And plains vagrants were found in 85% of sites visited – the highest percentage of sites since surveys began.

“We were really excited to see so many chicks,” says Nugent. “There’s probably only a handful of people in the world who’ve seen plains wanderer babies, so it’s a pretty nice feeling to know they were breeding.”

Adult birds are the size of a clenched fist, while chicks resemble a striped, fluffy golf ball. Male birds do most of the egg incubation and chick rearing.

PhD researcher Dan Nugent holds a plains wanderer during an investigation.

Heavy rainfall in Victoria due to the recent La Nina weather pattern has caused an increase in the growth of native grasses and generated increased insect and other invertebrate activity. In response, plains wanderers, which can have multiple broods of chicks, “bred around the clock,” Nugent says.

Land managers at the survey site – Terrick Terrick National Park, west of Echuca – have also gained more experience in managing vegetation to make it suitable. Plains wanderers do not like it too dense or too sparse, and so sheep and cattle are used to graze the grasslands at the correct density.

The survey was undertaken by La Trobe in partnership with the North Central Catchment Management Authority, as part of a report for the Department of Environment Land and Water and Planning.

Laura Chant, project manager at the catchment authority, said technology and survey methods had improved. “Furthermore, it is highly likely that habitat management and protection measures…for many years to protect this incredible bird will prove very effective – including conservation covenants and strategic grazing of conservation reserves. ”

Two plains wanderers in the spotlight.

Two plains wanderers in the spotlight.

After widespread flooding in 2010–2011, the number of Plains Vagabonds in Victoria dropped very low and it was estimated that there were fewer than a few hundred birds in Victoria. They are now believed to number in the thousands.

Their greatest threat is the destruction of their native grassland habitat to turn it into pasture.

“If we can halt the loss of native grasslands, the future of the plains wanderer looks really bright,” Nugent says. “They have so little habitat that we can’t afford to lose any more.”

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