You can also check out Mark Ziembicki's
reasearch page on the Australian Bustard. Go to
Bustard research page>>
Read more stories about savanna birds in
Flock bronzewing pigeons can occur episodically in suitable
grassland or floodplain habitats in response to favourable
Photo: Graeme Chapman
Male bustards return to the same sites in the northern savannas to
display year after year. They spend much of the breeding
Photo: Steve Wilson
Our online survey to help track two of
Australia's most elusive birds—the flock bronzewing pigeon
and the Australian bustard—is currently complete. Thank you
to those who filled out our survey form. Most responses came from
mail-out surveys; results can be found at the end of the page.
Highly mobile species
Rapid changes in populations of many animals are particularly
apparent in Australia’s monsoonal and arid regions, where
birds such as flock bronzewing pigeons ( Phaps histrionica )
and Australian bustards (Ardeotis australis ) can turn up
after not being seen for several years. These highly mobile species
can track favourable conditions over vast distances, responding to
fluxes in resources with large and rapid population increases.
Their mobility makes them hard to study, but understanding their
movements is important if we are going to ensure their survival. We
need to know that the resources that enable them to do well in good
years, and hang on in bad years, continue to be available. To do
this, we need to know where they are found at different parts of
the climate cycle: their movements and population dynamics at
local, regional and landscape scales.
Collection of such information using conventional methods is
exceedingly difficult. However, the development of large-scale,
community-based bird surveys (including mail surveys of rangeland
users) and new technologies, such as satellite telemetry and
spatial information systems, is now making collection of detailed
data on movements and population fluctuations, and the factors that
trigger them, possible.
Using such techniques, two Northern Territory based scientists
are undertaking studies of the movements and ecology of the
Australian bustard and the flock bronzewing pigeon.
The overall aim of these projects is to use these focal species
as models for developing innovative techniques for examining the
distributions and movements of highly mobile, nomadic species and
monitoring the status of both the species and their habitats over
landscape scales. Complementing this broad-scale approach is an
investigation of the ecology of each species at specific sites to
provide a holistic picture of how such species operate and
therefore how we may cater for their protection at local, regional
and landscape scales.
The Australian bustard is an easily identifiable and iconic
species across outback Australia. It undergoes significant
population fluctuations and movements in response to prevailing
Mark Ziembicki, of the University of Adelaide and the
Biodiversity Conservation Unit of the Northern Territory’s
Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, has been
studying the movements of the Australian bustard for some years
using satellite tracking techniques. Results of a continental-scale
mail survey of rangeland users in 2002, aimed at documenting
distribution patterns of bustards across Australia , have
contributed to the picture of how these birds are distributed
across the landscape.
Estimates of Australian Bustard numbers reported from 679
properties across Australia in 2002 showed highest concentrations
across the northern savanna regions from the Pilbara in Western
Australia to central Queensland
Flock bronzewing pigeon
The flock bronzewing pigeon is another iconic species of the
open rangelands of northern Australia, known for their nomadic
habits and for sporadic and infrequent spectacular aggregations.
Populations fluctuate dramatically throughout space and time and
they are known as a 'boom-bust' species. They can be locally
abundant following good seasons but then vanish and may not
reappear in the area for decades.
Peter Dostine, of the Australian National University and the
Biodiversity Conservation Unit of the Northern Territory ’s
Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, has
begun a project which aims to integrate data on resource patterning
from satellite imagery, movement data from birds tagged with
satellite transmitters and information on patterns of abundance
from community-based surveys of rangeland users.
A mail-out survey of rangeland users yielded excellent
information on distribution (Figure 1) and long-term patterns of
abundance (Figure 2). Results suggest that populations are dynamic
and linked to infrequent heavy rainfall events and major
Figure 1: Years reported as 'Best for flock bronzewings' coincide
with periods of above average rainfall and major floods.
Figure 2: Distribution of mail survey responses showing properties
where flock bronzewing pigeons were reported as present, and those
reported as absent