Woodland Birds Losing Out to Farmland Birds as Australian Rivers Dry Up

grey-crowned babbler photo
Grey-crowned Babbler, one of the species losing its habitat; photo via lostandcold via Flickr CC

The Macquarie Marshes, one of Australia's iconic wetlands, is dying a slow death as droughts and water diversion infrastructure take their toll, and feeling the squeeze along with the river are the birds that inhabit the woodlands along its edge. As the river dries, large areas of river red gums are stressed or dead, which leaves equally large numbers of birds homeless. The unintended consequences of river water diversion on birds is apparent as researchers watch the woodland avian species composition shift. Physorg reports, "River red gum woodlands provide habitat for a diverse group of woodland bird species, including four that are listed as vulnerable in NSW: the brown treecreeper, diamond firetail, hooded robin and grey-crowned babbler."

These birds are thinning out and taking their place are species that favor cleared areas, such as jacky winters and crested pigeons. But the researchers state that as the habitat degrades further, even these species won't want to stick around.

"When you stand in a forest of dead trees, you get a stark view of the impact of our water policies on these systems," says one of the researchers, Alice Blackwood. "The entire habitat is changing. As the trees are dying, dense native shrubs are moving in, while the coverage of herbs, leaf litter and aquatic plants is decreasing. These represent huge changes for small woodland birds."

Bad water policies are wreaking havoc on animal species worldwide. Diverting river waters, building dams for hydroelectric power, and polluting river water have threatened everything from dragonflies in the Mediterranean to salmon in the Pacific northwest . As Australia recognizes the broad impacts of water policies, hopefully the river's health can be restored and with it the strength of woodland bird populations

The researchers' study on the changing woodland bird populations can be read in full here (PDF)
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Tags: Australia | Birds | Water Crisis


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