Thursday, 26 December 2013

Australia's 'Bunyip Bird' on the brink

Dubbed Australia's 'bunyip bird', the Australasian Bittern is among the nation's most endangered species, and they've taken a liking to rice crops.

A pilot study conducted last summer identified rice growers as custodians of what appears to be the largest population ever recorded.

Neil Bull from the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA) said it was very encouraging to confirm a minimum of 70 individuals using rice crops during the 2012-13 season.

"Only a small proportion of rice crops were surveyed, so the actual number was likely to run well into the hundreds. It's now clear that the rice industry can play in a key role in the conservation of bitterns," Mr Bull said.

Ecologist Matt Herring, who is continuing the bitterns in rice study this season, said there are some key questions to answer in order to help the birds.

"Now that we know rice crops are so important for bitterns, we need to get a more accurate population estimate so that we can monitor them, especially for birds that are breeding," he said.

"We want to get a better idea of what it is about rice crops that bitterns like most.

"Many rice farmers I've spoken to are chuffed to be supporting an endangered species and are keen to adopt bittern-friendly rice-growing guidelines where possible," Mr Herring said.

Andrew Silcocks from Birdlife Australia is encouraging rice farmers to report their sightings of bitterns.

"This is a very poorly-known species and it's a national conservation priority. The more we learn about bitterns, the better chance we'll have of boosting their numbers."

Sightings can be reported online via the Birdlife Australia website.

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