Decline of woodland birds in the Mount Lofty Ranges 

A Long-term Monitoring Program by the NCS

The Mount Lofty Ranges of South Australia is nationally recognised for its ecological significance as one of Australia’s ‘biodiversity hotspots’. The region supports a remote island of native woodland that is separated by hundreds of kilometres from similar habitat in south-eastern Australia. 

The Mount Lofty Ranges Woodland Bird Monitoring Program (MLRWBMP) is a long-term monitoring program, initiated by Professor Hugh Possingham, Drew Tyre and Dr Scott Field in 1999. It aims to collect & assess evidence for population declines in woodland birds through repeated surveys of 165 sites throughout the Mount Lofty Ranges – from Kaiserstuhl Sanctuary in the north to Deep Creek Conservation Park in the south. Click here for the MLR Bird Sites Map.

By observing, recording and understanding the changes happening to a group of bird species, we can contribute to regional conservation management through landscape-scale decision making. The program also represents one of the few long-term regional-scale studies of a group of bird species in Australia.  

In addition to bird population data, vegetation condition information has been collected at monitoring sites and can be used to further our understanding of habitat and its influence on woodland birds. The project has established excellent baseline information on the broad range of bird species found in Stringybark and Pink Gum-Blue Gum Woodlands of the Mount Lofty Ranges. It is a truly unique and precious dataset. 

Results from the past 23 years show that some large generalist bird species and Cuckoos are becoming more common, while many smaller insectivorous and frugivorous birds are becoming less common. More than half of all species (38/65) have declined, while 11 species have significantly increased.  

The project uses expert bird surveyors and each of the 165 sites is visited 3 times per season (September to end December/early January) to investigate trends in the distribution and abundance of birds in response to a changing environment and broad-scale ecosystem management. We are grateful to our volunteers, surveyors and landholders that allow access to their properties year after year.  

The data can be used to indicate the success or failure of habitat restoration and rehabilitation, such as fencing, revegetation, prescribed burning, feral control or weed removal. Results from monitoring will also address: 

  • The drivers of small insectivorous and frugivorous bird decline 
  • Priority conservation management tools for protecting and restoring woodlands 
  • The response to fire management including suppression, fuel reduction burns and ecological burns 
  • The impacts resulting from climate change and land use changes. 

    The program’s data is stored in a NCS managed database and then uploaded into the Biological Database of South Australia (BDBSA). This data is then publicly available through Nature Maps. Results from the program have been published in Xanthopus, Landscape Ecology, Journal of Wildlife Management, Austral Ecology, Conservation Biology, Ecology Letters & Ecological Applications.

    Photos of Red-Browed Finch and Fairy Wren by Peter Day

    The surveys are undertaken by a group of surveyors who visit each of the 165 sites three times between September and January. 

    Adding Value to the Woodland Bird Project

    We are always considering other opportunities for increasing knowledge about Woodland Birds in South Australia. This has resulted in the following complementary funded projects: 

    Baseline Bird Surveys: Regenerating Catchments in the Mid North Farmscape

    Working closely with the Northern & Yorke Landscape Board, the NCS have embarked on a project to establish bird monitoring sites and conduct woodland bird surveys in the Gawler and North Para, Light and Wakefield River catchment areas. These surveys will take place across three sites over two years and will provide baseline data which can be used to assess the value of native plant restoration for woodland birds on private properties.

    Data from this project will contribute to our MLRWBMP and will also be uploaded into the BDBSA.

    This work is funded through the Regional Landscape Board Partnership Grant titled Regenerating Catchments in the Mid North Farmscape.

    Photo (Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater) by Chris Burns

    Citizen Scientists for Woodland Bird Monitoring

    The NCS are improving understandings of South Australia’s woodland birds by supporting and enhancing the capacity of citizen scientists to deliver projects relating to the MLRWBMP. This involves training and certifying citizen scientist bird surveyors from within and beyond the Program.

    In collaboration with the Nature Glenelg Trust, citizen scientists are being upskilled in bird identification (visual, calls and behaviour), biology, evolution and ecology. Training involves the use of binoculars and telescopes, field guides, and audio recorders for bird calls.

    Improving the capacity of citizen scientists will enhance the accuracy and credibility of woodland bird data and contribute to the established MLRWBMP. Citizen scientist training will have ongoing benefits for the MLRWBMP and beyond; it will enable upskilled individuals to train new citizen scientists in future years and improve the abilities of those who participate in other bird monitoring programs across South Australia.

    This project is funded by the Department for Environment and Water’s Environmental Citizen Science Large Grants

    Our project is supported by the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board and Green Adelaide, funded by the landscape levy, and Adelaide Hills Council.

    Nature Conservation Society of South Australia
    5 Milner Street Hindmarsh
    South Australia, 5007

    (08) 7127 4630
    [email protected]
    ABN 40 538 422 811

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