Nationally endangered Mallee emu-wrens returned to South Australia

The nationally endangered Mallee emu-wren has returned to South Australia for the first time since catastrophic wildfires caused the extinction of the species across the state in 2014.

Since then, the birds have survived in dangerously low numbers in just four locations across southern Australia.

In an effort to save the species, which declined as a result of widespread land clearing and frequent fires, 40 of these small birds were recently brought back to SA.

A collaboration between South Australian, Victorian and New South Wales organisations then formed to conserve the threatened birds.

BirdLife Australia’s Dr Rebecca Boulton, said the reintroduction of Mallee emu-wrens to SA was identified as a priority action.

“We all wanted to work quickly to re-establish a Mallee emu-wren population in SA to give this species increased security for the future,” she said.

Natural Resources South Australia Murray Darling Basin (SAMDB) project officer Luke Ireland said Mallee emu-wrens were tiny birds, weighing as little as a 10c coin, with distinctive tail feathers that are similar to the ‘fish-bone’ structure of emu feathers.

“These charismatic birds seldom fly far, and are heavily reliant on spinifex, a spiky, dense tussock grass, for shelter and breeding,” he said.

“Reintroductions are a long and challenging process and there are a lot of steps before actually moving birds around.”

The first reintroduction of birds was completed in April 2018 after funding and support was secured from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program (Threatened Species Recovery Fund) and project partners Zoos SA, Zoos Victoria, Rotary International, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, BirdLife Australia, Parks Victoria, La Trobe University, Monash University and Natural  Resources SAMDB.

Conservation Manager Zoos SA Dr Liberty Olds said more than 1500 hours were spent in the field capturing family groups, transferring the birds from the Victorian sites to Ngarkat Conservation Park in SA, and then undertaking post-release monitoring.