Superb Fairy-wrens in urban environments

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Aim of project

To find out more about the cause of decline of Superb Fairy-wrens in urban environments, the Birds in Backyards Program commissioned a study to investigate habitat use by Superb Fairy-wrens in urban areas, compared with their use of habitat in natural areas.

Participants

The study was undertaken by Holly Parsons and Kristine French from the University of Wollongong, along with Richard Major from the Australian Museum.

Methods

Radio transmitters, weighing less than half a gram, were attached to 20 female Superb Fairy-wrens by means of a dissolvable harness. Ten of the birds were captured and released in the suburbs of Wollongong, New South Wales, and ten birds were captured and released on the bushland/farmland interface of the Wollongong local government area. Only small batteries could be used (to achieve a transmitter package of less than 5 % of body-weight), which meant that birds could only be tracked for 5 days.

Results

There was considerable variation amongst individual birds in the size of the home-range they occupied, but in general, birds in the urban habitat ranged over a smaller area than birds in the more natural habitat. The average home range of urban wrens was 1.4 hectares, significantly smaller than the home range of bushland wrens which was 2.6 ha.

Discussion

Even though they range over a smaller area, it is clear that urban wrens still interact with the back yard environments contained within numerous territories of human inhabitants of urban areas. For example, the female from Dapto in the aerial photograph below, moved through 27 backyards during the five-day tracking period.

Conclusions

Clearly, to support small birds, such as fairy-wrens, in urban environments, the creation of suitable habitat must occur at a scale larger than the individual back yard. Future research will investigate the habitat elements of gardens occupied by Superb Fairy-wrens in an attempt to identify important features that might be planted to encourage future co-habitation of humans and fairy-wrens.

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