Museums Victoria has developed innovative software to recognise the call of the elusive Plains Wanderer and help track the bird in Victoria’s northern grassland plains.

About 60 song meters now record the distinctive bird song on public and private land to help scientists and land managers understand where the critically endangered birds live and how they move around.

Fewer than 1,000 of the small ground-dwelling wanderers remain in the wild and they’re notoriously fussy about where they live – the grass can’t be too long or too short, too sparse or too dense, and birds are never found within 300 metres of a tall tree.

Their northern plains habitat is a highly endangered ecosystem, with about 95 per cent of it already destroyed by agriculture and cultivation.

“The Plains Wanderer is really unique because they’re the only bird in that family. If we do lose the bird then a whole family of birds is gone, so it’s pretty important that we’re able to keep them alive and in our landscape,” Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) project officer Rebecca James said.

“Our project is focused on determining where they are hanging out in the landscape; where is the suitable habitat in the northern plains grassland. The main threat to these birds is habitat loss and biomass management in the remaining parts.”

Project officers from DELWP work with ecologist and Plains Wanderer expert Dr David Baker-Gabb to create a safe environment for the birds, liaising with landholders, community groups and partners.

Every six months, field officers collect recorded data from the strategically placed song metre devices then sit and listen to what they’ve picked up.  

“We’ve worked with Museums Victoria and the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research to develop a song recogniser for the plains wanderer,” Ms James said.  

“They have a unique song so instead of listening to thousands of hours of moos and all the weird sounds that happen on the grasslands, we run  a program called Kaleidoscope, we put the recogniser in it and it picks out all the potential plains wanderer calls.”

Staff from partner agencies such as Parks Victoria and Trust for Nature, as well as landholders in the Northern Plains Grassland conservation management network,  then sit and decipher the sounds to identify which are true and false recordings to determine where the species lives.

Efforts to save the species are being supported by a $200,000 grant through the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-Ground Action Icon Species Grants program, which funds targeted actions designed to protect and conserve Victoria’s threatened species.

It’s one of the ways we are working to protect biodiversity because every species matters.

Plains Wanderer - Image: Mark Antos

Page last updated: 27/07/20