Threatened Birds of King Island
King Island Scrubtit 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.
King Island Brown Thornbill 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 not been established as at June, 2019. Shy and quiet, it forages high and is associated with old growth eucalyptus and melaleuca forest 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).
King Island Black Currawong 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 has 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 Austrlian Birds, 2020 (Garnett and Baker, 2021).
King Island Yellow Wattlebird Anthochaera paradoxa kingi
Length 37-45 cm. Australia's largest Honeyeater the King Island Yellow Wattlebird is a subspecies 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).
King Island Threatened Birds Conservation Action
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 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"
March 2021: Update on Progress
King Island Scrubtit and Brown Thornbill: Under BirdLife
Australia's King Island Threatened Bird Conservation Plan (KITBCAP)
further searches for KI Brown Thornbill and KI Scrubtit are continuing
as funds become available through various sources. Several new sites
have been found where these species are still hanging out, but both
remain very low in numbers so their status hasn't changed. It is now
estimated that the total populations of both will be 50-100 individuals
remaining which is very concerning from a genetic diversity point of
view and will significantly impact on their long-term recovery.
Searches are also being undertaken across all vegetation types across the island, to establish exactly what the habitat needs of the KI Brown Thornbill. This information will be extremely important as we develop the action that will be required to help increase their populations. We have a lot yet to learn.
King Island Black Currawong and King Island Yellow Wattlebird:
Both of these birds have been identified in the 2020 Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett and Baker, 2021 - in print in April, 2021) as having declining populations with the KI Currawong now regarded as Critically Endangered (less than 250 individuals remaining) and the KI Wattlebird as Endangered (between 250-2500 individuals remaining). In both cases the decline is directly caused by scrub and windbreak clearing across the island that is continuing to reduce the amount of habitat were they can live. This clearing is condoned by the the Tasmanian State Government that changed the clearing laws in 2017 from a moritorium on clearing on King Island to allowing up to 40 ha to be cleared per annum per property. Applications to the FPA are required to clear trees or plants that have the potential to become trees more than 5 meters in height. However, many landholders don't know what plants they have so a lot of potential tree-height scrub is being cleared without applications. This is a disaster particularly for the KI Currawong that is heavily reliant on mature scrub for breeding, shelter and foraging. The KI Wattlebird is more adaptive and uses a larger range of habitat types, but is still being adversely impacted by this on-going clearing.
Hydro are also adding to this issue. Once they trimmed under the wires to keep everything functioning and safe. Now and increasingly they are removing all vegetation from wide areas around the wires. While this will no doubt save them money in the long-run, they are clearing large linear areas of sometimes very mature eucalypts and other native vegetation that is increasing the degree of fragmentation of remaining native vegetation across the island. In turn this is increasingly forcing many birds into isolated populations that are consequently losing genetic diversity.
At this stage, the KI Yellow Wattlebird and the KI Black Currawong have not been included into the KITBCAP, but will be in due course. An application to have the King Island Scrub Complex, a vegetation complex unique to King Island that is used extensively by both species, to be listed under the EPBC Act (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act), as a threatened ecological community has been submitted by the King Island Landcare Group, but the result of this will not be known for some time.
Attendees of the King Island Threatened Species workshop, 2019