A Whipbird has been rediscovered in Victoria

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

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Whipbird recorded in Victoria for the first time in decades

A subspecies of Western Whipbird (known as the Mallee or White-bellied Whipbird) was never particularly common in the Victorian Mallee. Records in the state’s north west gradually dwindled during the 20th century in the face of widespread clearance of mallee vegetation and changed fire regimes. Despite a few unconfirmed reports in the early 1980s, the last confirmed record of the species in Victoria was back in 1974 — that is, until now!



Sensationally, after decades of silence, a White-bellied Whipbird was recently heard singing in an almost inaccessible section of the Big Desert Wilderness Park, north of Nhill, in October, during a series of arduous bird surveys as part of the Threatened Mallee Birds project. The survey was led by Dr Simon Verdon from the Research Centre for Future Landscapes at La Trobe University and involved a team of researchers and a band of dedicated community volunteers.

The White-bellied Whipbird is a particularly cryptic species, renowned for the incredible difficulty observers have in spotting it among the dense mallee heathlands and shrublands it inhabits. Instead, like many other cryptic species that live in dense habitats, it is usually detected by its metallic-sounding song, which has been described as a series of “strange, rattling, staccato notes”. And that’s exactly what happened during the fateful survey, when its song was recorded by one of the participants. A recording of the call has been verified as that of a White-bellied Whipbird by a number of experts.

There is a small population of White-bellied Whipbirds in adjoining parts of South Australia, but, because the species is a sedentary one, it is inconceivable that the whipbird in the Big Desert had simply ventured across the border; rather it is likely to be a representative of a tiny remnant Victorian population, whose survival was unknown until now.

The area where the bird was discovered is included within the Wyperfeld, Big Desert & Ngarkat Key Biodiversity Area, and the data collected during this and other similar surveys contribute to our understanding of the distribution of 10 key mallee bird species included in the Commonwealth-listed (Endangered) Mallee Bird Community. The data will also directly inform future management efforts to protect and drive the recovery of these threatened species through targeted research and habitat rehabilitation.


Interestingly, the surveys also detected populations of some other threatened mallee specialists — the Red-lored Whistler and the Mallee Emu-wren, in particular — in greater numbers than had been expected. It seems that the recent wet seasons may have been beneficial to more than just ducks…

The Threatened Mallee Birds project is an initiative of the Mallee Bird Conservation Action Planning Committee, which is coordinated by BirdLife Australia.

This project is supported by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority, through joint funding from the Australian Government, Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and Department for Water and Environment SA.