A joint plan to save endangered bird species from extinction makes use of an experimental tool – solar-powered mini backpacks.
Roaming the plains are small, dark-colored, ground-dwelling birds with spotted throats that live in the semi-arid grasslands of northwest Victoria and New South Wales Riverina.
The birds were once found in eastern Australia but their numbers have decreased dramatically in the past ten years. Much of its known habitat is found in private lands.
Their habitat needs are very special. During droughts, insect numbers decline and nesting materials and food are scarce, meaning that the population cannot support themselves.
However, heavy rainfall can lead to overgrowth of weeds and birds to leave. Researchers don’t know where to go – yet.
Recent estimates suggest there are between 500 and 1,000 wandering plains in the wild. Australian government Declared Plains Critically Threatened in 2015.
Now 15 birds have been released into Oolambeyan National Park in the NSW Riverina region. It was protected forever in 2002 due to its high conservation value as a critical habitat for wandering in the plains.
The release is part of a 10-year, $175 million program involving the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia in a collaborative effort to ensure the species’ survival.
This is the second release in NSW – the first to see 10 birds released near Hay in March. Sixteen was launched in Victoria in 2021.
Researchers have long struggled to understand the birds’ movements in the wild – that’s where the solar backpacks come in.
They have a lifespan of two years and will be tracked by satellite. Previously, the tracking was restricted to a battery life of 12 weeks and birds could only be followed with a transmitter in the field.
NSW Environment Minister James Griffin said tracking their movements after their release was “the culmination of work aimed at bringing species back from the brink”.
“They are an important part of the ecosystem because their presence or absence is an indicator of the health of their native habitat,” Griffin said.
“These solar plains backpackers are paving the way for us to collect critical data, which will ultimately help us improve our efforts to conserve wild populations in the future.”
The birds were selected in the current version of the breeding programs with 11 coming from Taronga Western Plains Zoo in New South Wales, three from Monarto Safari Park in South Australia and one from Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria.
The breeding program is based on captive birds and can sometimes be creative. In one case, a group of chicks grew up under Daddy care for feather duster After their father stopped sitting on their eggs to warm them.