Eastern Bristlebird – An epic recovery program across three states
Eastern Bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus)
The Eastern Bristlebird, a cryptic ‘LBJ’ or ‘little brown job’ as its colloquially known in the birding world, is a nationally endangered species of passerine, or perching bird. This small, let’s-say cinnamon-coloured beauty, has had scientists, rangers, zoo-keepers and politicians across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria racing to save it from extinction.
Like many grassy woodland birds across Australia, the Eastern Bristlebird, is doing it tough. Its cryptic nature and adaptation to specialised habitats combined with a very small range now contracted to three distinct populations, makes the race a challenge for all involved.
The Eastern Bristlebird was previously found in the Conondale Ranges in Queensland all the way down through New South Wales to Victoria. It’s a shy, small ground-dwelling bird with facial bristles that protect its eyes when foraging in its specialised grassy woodland and heathland habitats, hence the name. It has stubby wings which make it not the best flyer, so it spends much of its time in the undergrowth foraging for insects as well as some seed. The males are very territorial and will spend a lot of time calling and defending their territory. The song of the Eastern Bristlebird is pretty, yet complicated, making it very difficult to locate due to its variability.
Today the bird’s three distinct populations are: the northern population on the Queensland and New South Wales border, the central population in the Jervis Bay area of New South Wales and the southern population around the Mallacoota area and on Wilsons Promontory of Victoria. Specific threats include weed pressures, lack of prescribed fire as well as predation by the introduced European Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cats in some parts.
Being a ground-dwelling bird with stubby wings, the Eastern Bristlebird needs a diversity of native grasses for nesting and food resources. They construct a globular-shaped nest tucked amongst the tussocky grasses like Foxtail Grass (Cenchrus purpurascens) and Native Sorghum (Sorghum leiocladum), and this makes them very vulnerable to predation and fire. In Queensland and New South Wales, rangers are working with private landholders neighbouring National Parks to provide support and resources in weed and fox control as well as fire management. Scientists, rangers and others are also mapping territories to guide and prioritise this vital habitat restoration work.
At a Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary facility called Garima Conservation Reserve, in Queensland, zoo-keepers are managing a captive breeding program of the birds to release back into the wild. This captive breeding facility and program gives birds an opportunity to breed in comfort and quiet with no external interference. It also adds genetic diversity to the population through the careful match-making of birds from each of the three subpopulations, with young released back into the wild. Zoo-keepers maintain the enclosure and service the animals to provide a captive habitat and diet replicating their wild conditions. They also conduct observations of individual birds to ensure pairings are compatible.
Down in New South Wales, over 15 years ago, Dr David Bain, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, conducted his PhD research which involved collecting birds from Jervis Bay National Park and translocating a new population to Beecroft Peninsula in New South Wales. This unique population, living in heathland and swampy habitat, provided an insurance population against catastrophic events. The translocation was a success, allowing the team to better understand the specifics of translocation as an appropriate conservation technique. Years later an even more daring translocation project is now taking place.
Natura Pacific was honoured to attend the first cross-state translocation of captive birds to Wilson’s Promontory National Park, in Victoria, in April this year. This insurance population will provide an even more robust insurance population against climate change, predation and habitat loss that threatens the vulnerable populations. This epic interstate translocation was made possible by the hard work, expertise and pooled funds of many dedicated groups across three states including the rangers of Booderee National Park and Parks Australia, NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Zoos Victoria and Parks Victoria. It’s a huge effort by all counts! So far, the results are very positive, with most of the translocated birds surviving and utilising a variety of areas in the park.
Do you want to help the Eastern Bristlebird? Why not become a citizen scientist for birds by taking part in recording species? Birdlife Australia holds an ‘Aussie Bird Count’ each year that takes place between 17-23 October 2022, so you don’t even have to the leave comfort of your own backyard to contribute to bird conservation! Click here for more information and to register: https://aussiebirdcount.org.au/
Click here to follow the journey of the state-hopping Eastern Bristlebirds and find out how they’re going after their translocation: