Threatened Endemic Birds of King Island

Introduction:

A threatened species is a species that is threatened with extinction. While eventual extinction is a natural process within natural systems, it is generally a very slow process taking many hundreds or thousands of years for a species to become extinct.  Today, because of world-wide over population of humans and our insatiable appetite for production and development, changing the world to suit ourselves individually without understanding that each of those changes impacts on our fundamental life-support systems - the natural environment - the extinction rate of species has increased to around 1000% higher than the natural rate.  Because of that massive increase and the desperate need to maintain a functional environment, a set of pre-extinction criteria has been set up to help identify species and prioritise where recovery work is most needed.  

Categories of Threat:

Extinct: Species no longer exists

Extinct in the Wild: species only exist in captivity

Critically Endangered (CR): species is in extreme danger of extinction in the immediate future

Endangered (E): species in danger of extinction while the factors causing them to be endangered are still operating

Vulnerable (V): species at risk of becoming endangered

Conservation Dependent (CD): species whose survival is dependent on conservation activities

Why is it important to prevent extinctions:

Plants and animals maintain the health of ecosystems. When species become threatened with extinction, it's a sign that an ecosystem is out of balance and not working effectively.  Therefore the presence of threatened species on King Island tells us that our environment is losing its integrity (wholeness and functionality) and that we aren't caring for our natural environment well. The conservation of endangered species, and restoring balance to the world's ecosystems, is vital for humans too, so it is in our own interests to preserve it.  There is also a moral argument about whether we (humans) have a right to knowingly cause the extinction of other living species and the individuals that make up that species.

Key Threatening Processes on King Island (in order of degree)

  • Land clearance for agriculture and development removing native vegetation

  • Global warming including sea level rise causing loss of habitat

  • Predation by feral cats

  • predation by introduced rats and mice

  • Dieback caused by the root-fungus Phytophthora cinnamoni

  • Psittacine Circoviral (Beak and feather) Disease affecting parrot

       species often spread when artificially fed by humans

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Beach erosion, Quarantine Beach, King Island, 2022

King Island Scrubtit (CR) Acanthornis magnus  greenianus

Description: Length 11-12 cm; weight 10 gm. Note short, slender, slightly curved bill, brownish above, with white spot on wing, white throat, yellowish underbelly and blackish narrow subterminal band on tail.

 

The King Island Scrubtit is a subspecies of the Tasmanian Scrubtit.  It lives in tall, old growth melaleuca forest with good understory, foraging high up in the canopy.  Shy and quiet it is hard to find and observe.  

Due to loss of habitat through fire and land clearing, it was listed with the EPBC Act as Critically Endangered in 2002, however, while a number of expeditions surveyed the remaining birds and observed a continued decline in population, no recovery work was commenced until 2019.  They are now subject of the King Island Bird Conservation Action Plan (2021)

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King Island Brown Thornbill (CR) Acanthiza apical Archibaldi
 

Length 10 cm; Weight unknown - about 7-8 g. Slightly darker and with a much longer and larger bill than other brown Thornbill species.  Previously considered a Brown Thornbill subspecies, it is now thought to be a separate species but this has yet to be established.  Shy and quiet, it forages high and is associated with old growth eucalyptus and melaleuca forest and King Island Scrub Complex (a unique King Island vegetation community) with healthy undergrowth.


Listed in 2000 as Endangered, the KI Thornbill was recognised as the most likely next bird extinction in Australia in 2018 (Geyle H. M. 2018). At that time only one bird had been seen at any one time in one location on the island over several decades. Two photographs taken in 2015 and another in 2016 by different photographers proved they were still extant (existed).  They are now subject of the King Island Bird Conservation Action Plan (2021).

KI brown thornbill, Pegarah SF, King Isl
KI Brown Thornbill x Adrian Boyle.jpg

King Island Black Currawong (CR) Strepera fuliginosa colei 
 

Length  47-49 cm. Large black bird with white wing tips and tail feather tips and strong heavy bill. Smaller than Tasmanian species. Otherwise looks very similar. Bright yellow eye in adults and black eye in immature birds. It has a loud raucous voice and is most commonly observed during the autumn months when they band together in loose flocks and roam further afield. It is a rarely seen, breeding resident that prefers dense scrub for breeding and protection, but utilises open paddocks and other vegetation for foraging.

Once prolific on King Island, it has been in noticeable decline since the 1960's.  Listed as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act in 2015, it has been assessed as Critically Endangered by the Action Plan for Australian Birds, 2020 (Garnett and Baker, 2021).

While not a specific subject of the King Island Conservation Action Plan, it will benefit from the work done in that project, particularly from that of the KI Brown Thornbill, as both species utilise King Island Scrub Complex extensively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King Island Yellow Wattlebird (E) Anthochaera paradoxa kingi 

Length 37-45 cm.  Australia's largest Honeyeater the King Island Yellow Wattlebird is a KI subspecies and is regarded as being slightly smaller than the Tasmanian species.  The Yellow Wattlebird as its name suggests, has pendulous yellow-orange wattles and a bright yellow belly. Common prior to the 1960s, it has been in a slow decline.  While not listed under the EPBC Act as yet, it has been assessed as Endangered in the 2020 Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett and Baker, 2021). 

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Green Rosella (E) Platycercus caledonicus brownii

Length 32-38 cm.  A Blue-cheeked rosella endemic to Tasmania with the King Island subspecies brownii greener and slightly smaller than its Tasmanian cousin. The only rosella on King Island it is generally associated with forests although can be seen along roadways foraging for grass seeds.  Not listed in Tasmania or the EPBC, it has been identified as Endangered in the Action Plan for Australian Birds, 2020 (Garnett and Baker, 2021).  A declining population is being caused by a shortage of habitat and competition for breeding tree hollows, a situation probably exacerbated by the fairly recent establishment of galahs on the island.

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Green Rosella 2 x Donna Romano copy.jpg

King Island Threatened Birds Conservation  

History

In 2018 funds were raised by the King Island Natural Resource Management Group and BirdLife Australia to undertake a systematic search for both the KI Brown Thornbill and KI Scrubtit.  This initial search was undertaken by Dr Matthew Webb and colleagues from Australian National University in March, 2019.  They found several birds of both species in the known sites and importantly they also found new sites where the birds are still existing.

Following these discoveries a workshop was held on King Island with stakeholders from all levels of government, local community, BirdLife Australia and several universities, to develop a Conservation Action Plan (CAP) for both species. 

 

The official statement from this first CAP workshop produced the following statement:

"The King Island Scrubtit and King Island Thornbill are nationally significant and they are a unique part of King Island’s biodiversity.

Populations of both birds are now less than 50 individuals each, and without intervention they are facing imminent extinction

Taking decisive action now is essential to saving these two species from extinction

Successful recovery will rely on strong partnerships between the King Island community, State and Federal Governments, NGOs and specialist scientists to address their key threats. 

We urgently need to: 

  • Complete the surveys of potential habitats to better understand both species' distribution and requirements

  • Update State and Federal assessment processes with improved habitat descriptions, vegetation mapping and on ground assessment methods

  • Increase the level of protection at Pegarah State Forest and focus management on strengthening this area as a stronghold for both species

  • Increase capacity to prevent and respond to fire in key habitat

  • Identify and protect critical areas on private land through a range of measures including incentives to maximise landholder participation"

Over the following year, facilitated byBirdLife Australia's Preventing 

Extinctions Program, a full Conservation Action Plan was designed.

2021 The King Island Bird Conservation
Action Plan (KI B CAP)
What is it?

The Threatened King Island Birds Conservation Action Plan (CAP) is a direct and coordinated response to the very high risk that, without urgent action, the King Island Brown Thornbill and King Island Scrubtit will become extinct within 20 years. In addition to the focal species and the forest systems on which they depend, CAP strategies and actions benefit other threatened KI birds and their habitats. Ongoing development and implementation of the CAP is coordinated by the King Island Birds CAP Steering Committee and facilitated by BirdLife Australia, with support from the Australian Bird Environment Foundation. See PDF for the full CAP.

The King Island Birds Conservation Action Plan (CAP) Steering Committee was formed in July, 2021, and is comprised of species experts and representatives from government entities, NGO and NRM groups, research institutions and the King Island community. The Steering Committee provides advice and makes recommendations on the conservation needs of the CAP targets and develops and implements the CAP within an adaptive management framework. See PDF Members of the CAP Steering Committee.

To Contact the KI B CAP Management:

Facilitator:  Dr Sarah Pearson E: sarah.pearson@birdlife.org.au

Steering Committee Chair:  Kate Ravich E: kate.ravich@bigpond.com M: 0417487263

Conservation Actions - updated 8.2.2022

Defining and mapping habitat requirements to support the survival of King Island threatened birds

This project is funded by the Australian Government's National Landcare program and managed by the Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management Authority. It is being led by Dr Phil Bell and commenced in 2020. Its Aims are:

1) Identifying remaining populations of both the KI Scrubtit and KI Brown Thornbill.   Searches are being undertaken across the island to find and document all remaining populations of both species and simultaneously learn more about their habitat requirements.

2) One of the difficulties that King Island has had for sometime is a lack of accurate information about ecological communities on the island.  A part of the search project above, is to undertake vegetation mapping and update our knowledge of the current status of all the KI vegetation communities. This information is being supplied to Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Department of the Tasmanian State Government to update their own data. Having this knowledge is essential for effective conservation of all KI natural values. 

Further funding gained recently, will allow this project to continue until all potential habitats and vegetation mapping has been completed. 

Community engagement and Stakeholder awareness

Community Meeting - April 2021:

An open-house community meeting was held to bring the community up-to-date on what we are finding and what needs to be done.  In particular, we included the recent identification of the KI Black Currawong as also being critically endangered, in this meeting. Over 40 people attended and the results were reported in the local King Island paper, the Courier.

Updated Information to Stakeholders: A comprehensive list of stakeholders including federal, state and local government agencies, Tas Parks and Wildlife, fire management and the local King Island Community, is being compiled for biannual updates of the status and distribution of all threatened species on the island. This aims to reduce the possibility of potential habitat clearing or damage. These updates will be done via a newsletter that will also be uploaded to this website.

Submission to the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1919 (EPBC Act)

We have identified that an endemic ecological community, King Island Scrub Complex (TASVEG SSK), has been reduced through land clearing to dangerously low levels.  An application to have this community listed as Endangered under the EPBC Act was submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in March 2021.  This was rejected but with a request to resubmit once more data was collected.  That has now occurred and the application will be resubmitted in February, 2022.

 

Priority Species Grant Submission, 2022

The KI Brown Thornbill (KIBT) was identified as a priority threatened species by the Federal government in 2021 making it eligible for conservation funding in 2022.  A grant application has consequently been submitted. This proposal aims to begin the reconnection of the two largest remaining populations of KIBT identified to date, by re-establishing  corridors and stepping stones of vegetation to allow safe movement pathways between the two.  Should the grant application be successful, the project will begin with extensive consultation with all relevant landholders to develop a pathway and system of revegetation that would be beneficial to all parties. The commencement of fencing, planting and allowing natural revegetation to develop along this pathway would be undertaken after that.  

 

The total grant is not sufficient to complete this reconnecting process, given the cost of wallaby-proof fencing, but it is sufficient to develop the 'big-picture' plan and begin revegetation. It is hoped that this will be the first stage of what will become a long-term and on-going revegetation project on King Island that will be of advantage to all stakeholders, including landholders and beef producers, as well as the threatened species.

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Attendees of the King Island Threatened Species workshop, 2019 

King Island Bird Conservation Action Plan, 2021

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Land clearing on King Island.

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Regenerating King Island Scrub Complex

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Safe pathways of movement for small birds