From bin chickens to gang-gangs- Australian bird of the year is a celebration and a call to action
Birds matter. They bring the wild to our back yards, balconies, streets and suburbs. They forage, spread seeds and pollinate plants, keeping natural systems humming.
Birds sing. They laugh. They are nature’s alarm clock. They sound and look weird. They bring joy, mostly. They aren’t boring.
Birds make us look up. They’re good for our health. Is there a better way to get out of whatever headspace is confining you than watching a bird soar on a gust of wind, angling its wings to control the energy of the breeze while the rest of its body remains still? In that moment the bird is in control of the elements, free from earthly concerns. What a thing to be able to do.
Birds were, of course, doing their thing long before humans relied on them for release from existential problems, and have value far beyond our everyday concerns. Their existence is a wonder of evolution. They help keep ecosystems in balance by feeding on fast-spreading pests, cycling and spreading nutrients across the land and ocean, and having a designated role as first scavengers on site to clean up nature’s messes.
As Birdlife International points out, birds are also climate and environmental messengers. Because they are widespread and can travel quickly, their movement patterns are an early warning system about changes in the planet’s health.
Guardian Australia is an unashamedly pro-bird publication. Since 2017, we have run bird of the year – a biennial competition to find the country’s favourite avian species.
The poll started organically after readers responded enthusiastically to a request for bird-related feedback and, with Birdlife Australia’s tireless support, has grown over time.
Here’s how it works- the competition kicks off on Monday 25 September with a lineup of 50 Australian native birds. The bottom five birds are eliminated at the end of each weekday. Everyone is able to vote each day – so on Tuesday, you can vote again on the 45 most popular birds from Monday, and so on.
Voting will go dark on Friday 6 October for the final 10 birds – you won’t be able to see the mounting tallies – and will close at midnight. The winning bird will be the one that receives the most votes on that day.
The first winner was the magpie. It overtook the Australian white ibis – the bin chicken – late in the competition, riding a wave of support from Collingwood fanatics. The black-throated finch took the crown in 2019 after a campaign from environmentalists highlighting concerns it was under threat from Adani’s Carmichael mine.
Two years ago it was the small, blue-feathered superb fairywren that came out on top, narrowly ahead of the tawny frogmouth. Readers cast more than 400,000 votes over 10 days.
The competition is fun, but there is a serious point. Many Australian bird species are under threat, some increasingly so. There are things we can do about that.
At the time of the last bird of the year poll the country was still coming to terms with the catastrophic impact of the 2019-20 black summer bushfires on forests and other habitats. It followed years of drought that had also taken a toll as waterways dried up.
The last two years have offered some reprieve as Australia has been hit by the second and third of three consecutive La Niña events. They have brought above average rainfall, loads more water in river systems and milder temperatures in parts of the country. The result has been large breeding events in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin and in the Lake Eyre Basin, with water running across western Queensland and New South Wales in particular.
But Sean Dooley, the national public affairs manager for BirdLife Australia, says while this has been good news, the aerial surveys led by the University of NSW’s Prof Richard Kingsford suggest the impact on birdlife has not been as great as might have been expected.
‘Three La Niña years in a row should be an absolute bonanza for water birds and the truth is we’re yet to see it translate into the boom we should have seen,’ he says. ‘Things should be better than they were two years ago but they are not as good as we thought they would be.’
There have been standout positive stories over the past two years. The orange-bellied parrot has bounced back from an extraordinarily low base after a concerted breeding program, with numbers increasing from 17 to more than 70. It doesn’t mean the species is saved – the numbers are tiny and the genetic diversity is low – but it is a welcome shift.
Similarly, a captive release program of regent honeyeaters following a breeding program by Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Birdlife Australia and the NSW government has shown signs of success.
Dooley says there has been a ‘groundswell of people doing really good work at a local level’ since the pandemic lockdowns lifted. But there are also struggling species that do not receive the same attention as those named above.
And the plight of some species has worsened as government-sanctioned habitat destruction continues. The critically endangered swift parrot continues to lose the large hollow trees it relies on for nesting to Tasmanian logging. Scientists warn a recently released draft recovery plan does not address that.
The gang-gang cockatoo was listed as endangered due to the combined impact of climate change-fuelled bushfires and heatwaves and clearing of forests in its home in the Great Dividing Range.
In the arid inland, the pink cockatoo – also known as Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, and classified as endangered earlier this year – has declined due to a lack of nesting tree hollows caused by historic and ongoing clearing, fire and overgrazing of tree seedlings by feral and native species. This is how extinction can gradually happen.
The federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said after being appointed to the portfolio last year that the evidence showed Australia’s environment laws were not working and change was needed. ‘If we stick with what we’re doing now we’ll keep getting the same results,’ she said.
A promised reform of the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act has since been pushed into 2024, with draft legislation expected before Christmas.
Dooley says Plibersek has raised expectations that the government will act on the evidence, and it is clear that land-clearing, including native forest logging, is the ‘number one blight’ affecting the country’s wildlife, particularly its birds. He says the legal revamp must deal with that directly to be effective.
‘The bird-loving world is waiting with bated breath to see whether that happens.’
(News Source -Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Times Of Nation staff and is published from a www.theguardian.com feed.)
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