Follow that bird

Wednesday, 22 November 2023

  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes

Follow that bird

Tracking the elusive Australian Painted-snipe

The Australian Painted-snipe is one of our most enigmatic species. Due to its cryptic nature and unpredictable occurrences across a wide swathe of the mainland, almost every aspect of this Endangered species’ ecology is poorly understood. Its population is thought to be no more than 340.

Though breeding records of this species are rare, it is thought that the La Niña rainfalls over the past few years are likely to have created excellent breeding conditions for these birds, particularly in parts of inland Australia, and as those inland wetlands begin to dry out, it is hoped that painted-snipe will soon be turning up at other, less remote sites where they are seldom recorded. Indeed, there have been a number of recent records at more accessible wetlands, though not anywhere near the spike in observations that occurred about a decade ago after similar La Niña conditions.

Nevertheless, finding an Australian Painted-snipe is not always easy, as they are are mostly active in twilight, they’re quiet and shy, and they are incredibly cryptic, so, as often as not, simply finding an individual painted-snipe is considered a major achievement. And this makes any study of its ecology next to impossible—until now.

A single Australian Painted-snipe was captured in a wetland near Balranald, in the Riverina of southern New South Wales, in October. The bird, a female, was fitted with a light-weight tracking device, so now researchers will be able to follow its movements via satellites and mobile phone tower technology. This will allow the researchers to gain a greater understanding about what makes this enigmatic bird tick—its local movements, roosting and feeding sites, and its diurnal and nocturnal habits.

Because so little is known about the species, all data gathered from this individual will be vital in informing the species’ overall conservation strategy and play a key role in ensuring that the Australian Painted-snipe can survive into the future. And with other birds popping up at wetlands across various parts of the continent, it is hoped that more birds will be found so that they can too be fitted with trackers.