Status of Australia's birds

In 2000, one in five of Australia's birds (20%) was listed as threatened (Garnett and Crowley, 2000). This gives us a very clear message that the state of Australia's environment (i.e. its ecological health), is extremely poor and in decline. Birds Australia publishes annual reports on the State of Australia's Birds, based on massive data sets.

The most significant contributing factor is the on-going clearing of native vegetation for both agricultural and urban expansion. This is being made worse as the effects of climate change become apparent.

We have shown both the federal and New South Wales state conservation status for each bird on this site, with Secure meaning that the bird is not currently listed.

The full list of categories, from the Federal Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act):

  • Extinct
  • Extinct in the wild
  • Critically endangered
  • Endangered
  • Vulnerable
  • Conservation dependent

Birds as environmental indicators

Several animals or species can act as indicators of environmental health. Since a fully diverse ecology is needed to support a healthy number and range of species, a lower than expected number or range of species in an environment clearly indicates a lower ecological diversity. Birds are particularly good as environmental indicators because they:

  • live in almost every type of environment in Australia and in almost every niche (place or role) within those environments.
  • are at the top of the food-chain and are therefore vulnerable to accumulating chemicals
  • have representatives that depend on the full range of animal diets
  • are easy to see and observe
  • are already relatively well-known, providing a good baseline against which change can easily be monitored.

In Australia the status of birds is used in environmental reports such as the State of the Environment, a report published every five years by the Department of Environment and Heritage. Much of the information used in these reports is gathered by the Birds Australia Atlas of Australian Birds, one of the largest wildlife databases in the world

The United Kingdom has a strong example of how highly regarded birds are as indicator species: the government uses the status of birds as one of 14 base-line Sustainability Indicators, along with their GDP. It is known as The Population of Wild Birds Quality of Life Indicator.

The urban wildlife problem in Australia

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world with an estimated 85 % of the population living in urban areas, most of which are within 50 kilometres of the east coast. When a new area is urbanised it almost always begins with the total clearing of the native vegetation and replacement with streets and buildings. Once these ecosystems are destroyed by clearing, they cannot be replaced. No amount of planting, however carefully done, will be able to reproduce the complex inter-related systems that they are composed of.

Areas of biological importance are being lost

Many of the areas that are popular for urban expansion are also of significant biological importance, containing a high proportion of Australia's wildlife. Ongoing land-clearing for urban development in these areas is leading to a significant loss of this biodiversity. Perhaps the best example of this is the 'biological hot-spot' that exists around the Brisbane area. In New South Wales, the Central Coast and new suburban developments in western Sydney are also examples of important biological areas being lost to urban expansion.

Why is this important?

Maintaining biodiversity is an essential element of sustainability for our own welfare and that of native plants and animals.

What can we do?

There are a number of things that can be done to reduce these losses in urban areas:

  • Large areas of land should be left intact when planning new urban areas.
  • Parks and open spaces should be planned for birds and other wildlife as well as people.
  • Wildlife corridors should be included in urban planning; for both new developments and old. Gardens can form a part of wildlife corridors.
  • Individual gardens should be planted for birds and other wildlife.

Whose responsibility is it?

We all have a responsibility to ensure biodiversity is maintained. All levels of government have responsibilities to legislate for this purpose. In New South Wales, Local Government Authorities (LGAs) are responsible for ensuring the maintenance and expansion of local biodiversity and must report back to the State Government regularly. But they can't achieve this without the help of their communities - which means all of us.

We need to become actively involved by:

  • Putting environmental issues on our agenda when we vote at all levels of government.
  • Working with our Local Government Authorities.
  • Becoming active in our communities in explaining that maintaining bird habitat and biodiversity is important.
  • Planning and planting our gardens for birds and other wildlife.
  • Talking to our neighbours about the need to take control of and improve our environments and encouraging them to participate too.
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