A record participation in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count may have revealed a disturbing trend in small bird decline in urban gardens across the country.
BirdLife Australia are now asking for Australians to play a part in the Bird Count this year to determine if these trends are ongoing.
The Count is in its eighth year and takes contributions of more than 100,000 citizen scientists to create a snapshot of the state of Australia’s backyard birds and the population of different species.
The results from previous Aussie Backyard Bird Counts year-on-year have revealed a loss of many of our once common small garden birds, such as the Superb Fairy-wren, Silvereye and Willie Wagtail.
Superb Fairy-wrens (and the similar Splendid Fairy-wren in Perth) have seen a significant drop off in reporting rates in cities such as Melbourne, Perth, Hobart and Sydney over the past seven years of the Bird Count.
“In Melbourne and Perth, the reporting rates of fairy-wrens have almost halved over this time,” BirdLife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager, Sean Dooley, said.
“These much-loved birds are usually found in suburbs that have corridors of native bushland close by so their rapid disappearance, along with a number of other small bush birds, is cause for grave concern.”
Reports of the Willie Wagtail have reduced by about half since 2014 in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Darwin, with Perth being the only city to see an increase in the reports of Willie Wagtails.
Over the past seven years Backyard Bird Counters have spotted Silvereyes less often, with a drop off of more than half in reported sightings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and significant declines in other capital cities.
“Superb Fairy-wrens and Silvereyes do much better where there are numerous dense plants and a thicker understorey in our gardens, while Willie Wagtails like more open woodland type parks and gardens.”
“Smaller bush birds are most likely losing out in urban areas due to the loss of richness and diversity of habitat and urban sprawl as infill development decreases wild urban spaces.
“We are building bigger houses on smaller blocks. With fewer bushy gardens for these small birds to retreat to, we risk losing them entirely from our cities. Each of us can play a part to create safe spaces for these birds.
“The downward trend may also be exacerbated by the rise of larger and more aggressive birds, in particular the Noisy Miner which can drive away smaller birds,” Sean Dooley said.
Participation in this year’s Count will enable bird experts to determine if these trends are continuing for declining species and can help BirdLife Australia to determine the reasons for the declines.
“With more Counters taking part every year, the picture we are building becomes more accurate and reliable. More Counters in rural areas will also allow us to compare how birds are faring in the city as compared to out in the bush and the rest of the country.”
“The more counts that come in, the more confident we can be in what is happening and be able to take action to fix what’s causing these losses.
“The Count is an excellent opportunity for those still under restrictions in Victoria and New South Wales to use their time at home to help our native birds,” Mr Dooley said.
Participants can also help bird experts to see if the two most commonly recorded birds are still Rainbow Lorikeet and Noisy Miner. These birds have been dominant in previous years, after benefitting from decades of native tree planting in city parks and gardens.
Their success may be coming at a cost to other smaller or shyer birds which are pushed out by these bolder birds.
For more information on the Aussie Backyard Bird Count go to www.aussiebirdcount.org.au.