Bird Week: New hope for rare Australian bird

Fresh surveys reveal the known population of one of Australia’s rarest birds has expanded to new areas, offering fresh hope for its survival.

A striated grasswren bird (mytornis striatus) in a tree

The Mukarrthippi grasswren is the Australian bird most likely to go extinct, with a significant 60% risk by 2041. The critically endangered bird was previously spotted at 2 locations in and near Yathong Nature Reserve in central-west New South Wales, and in 2021, the total population was estimated to be between 4 and 20 birds.

However, recent surveys have discovered the Mukarrthippi grasswren at 3 new locations within Yathong Nature Reserve, more than 6 kilometres away from the previously known habitat. These new sites feature the bird’s preferred spinifex and mallee habitat.

At least 6 birds have been observed in these new locations, expanding its known range.

To protect and restore the Mukarrthippi grasswren, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is declaring core habitat as an asset of intergenerational significance, providing stronger legislative protection under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Special fire management plans are being developed, and the habitat will be included in a large feral predator-free area to prevent the rare bird being killed by cats. Research and monitoring efforts, including remote-sensing surveys to map key habitat, are ongoing.

“Mukarrthippi” [mook-wah-tippy] translates to “small bird of the spinifex” in the language of the Ngiyampaa people. The Mukarrthippi grasswren is a subspecies of the striated grasswren.

They measure 14.5 to 19 cm long and weigh 15-23 grams, approximately the same as 2 AA batteries. Their slender bill, long blackish-brown tail, soft reddish-brown upperparts with white streaks, and buff underparts with heavy white streaking on the breast make them distinctive.

The survey and conservation efforts have been undertaken in collaboration with BirdLife Australia and have received funding from Saving our Species.

Quote attributable to Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe:

“The Mukarrthippi Grasswren is one of Australia’s rarest birds so finding more of them in new locations is a huge boost to our efforts to prevent its extinction.

“This discovery is thanks to dedicated field scientists who have been searching for the little bird in one of our most remote national parks.

“NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is working to protect and restore this very elusive bird through fire management and feral animal control strategies.

“I hope the discovery will inspire many citizen scientists to take part in the 10th annual Aussie Bird Count this weekend, as National Bird Week draws to a close.”

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