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 bill than other brown Thornbill species. Previously considered a Brown Thornbill subspecies, it is now thought it may 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 a time in one location on the island over several decades, with two photographs taken in 2015 and another in 2016 by different photographers.
2019 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 in the known sites and importantly they also located both species in new sites. While all possible habitat remnants have not yet been searched (September 2019) it is considered possible that more birds may be found with further systematic searching.
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"
July, 2020 Update
Further KI Brown Thornbill searches were underway by locally trained and professional observers in February and in March. Further locations were found where this species are still present, but all in tiny numbers. However, their status hasn't changed. It is still estimated that the total population will be around 50 individuals. Funding is now being sought for these searches to continue as there are still many more spots as yet unchecked.