Endangered Bird In Australia Making Comeback

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Australian officials say they are having success with a captive breeding program aimed at saving an endangered native bird, the regent honeyeater.

Twenty-seven of the yellow and black birds were fitted with radio transmitters and released May 1 into Chiltern Mount Pilot National Park in Victoria state. The site, about 300 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of Sydney, was picked because it is home to the box and ironbark forests the birds prefer.

So far, the birds have thrived, with 22 of the 27 sighted daily in the park and only one confirmed dead, park officials and conservationists said Friday.

"It's better than we could have hoped for," said Dave Tyson, a park ranger.

"There were critical timelines for the survival of the captive-bred birds when they were released," he said. "They are passing all those quite successfully. It appears that one bird so far may have been taken by a hawk. But all the others may still be OK even though they are dispersing."

Conservationists also said the captive-bred birds quickly adapted to their new homes and began interacting with wild populations in the park. In fact, the first wild birds seen in Chiltern in 18 months arrived only after the captive birds were released.

"After we released our captive birds, one of them was seen sitting next to a wild bird and they were calling to each other," said Dean Ingwersen, coordinator of Birds Australia's Threatened Bird Network. "This is a fantastic result and validates all of our hard work. We are now hoping to observe breeding."

The regent honeyeater - named in part for its love of the nectar from flowering eucalyptus plants - was once commonplace in the country's southeast.

But populations declined dramatically in the last few decades as woodlands were cleared for farming and other agricultural purposes. The bird, which is native to Australia, is no longer found in South Australia and only sparsely in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland states.

"Recent surveys have suggested that the species has declined dramatically during the past five years," said David Geering, the National Regent Honeyeater Recovery project coordinator. "There could be as few as 1,000 birds left in the wild."

Government wildlife agencies started a program in the early 1990s that protects the regent honeyeater's habitat and worked with Australian zoos to start captive breeding.

The birds released in May were raised in captivity for as long as eight years and then sent to a quarantine facility for a month to adapt to what life in the wild would be like. The birds, from three different Australian zoos, were introduced to one another, given more space to test their wings and provided with a diet that mimics what they would eat in the wild.

Ingwersen said the initial success of the release bodes well for efforts to use captive breeding to boost endangered species. Similar programs in Australia have been used to increase the populations of the orange-bellied parrot, helmeted honeyeater and black-eared miner, he said.

"It would be nice if we had populations that were thriving so we didn't have to have captive breeding," Ingwersen said. "But given the impact that we have had on a number of species, this is necessary."

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