Mallee Emu-wren

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Image:Malleemuwren.JPG

Common Name: Mallee Emu-wren
Scientific Name: Stipiturus mallee

Size: 5 – 5 ¾ inches (13-14.5 cm); tail (8-9.5 cm)

Habitat: Australia; Endemic. It has a severely fragmented distribution in the Victorian and South Australian mallee regions. It occupies habitats containing hummock grassland, usually within low woodland dominated by mallee eucalypts Eucalyptus and cypress pine. It also occurs in heath containing banksias or casuarinas. In Ngarkat, it can disperse at least 6 km into vegetation recovering from fire, 3-4 years after it has been burnt. Highest densities occur 8-10 years after fire, although it persists in vegetation 50 years old. Much apparently suitable habitat is unoccupied. Throughout its range it appears to be confined to relatively small discontinuous fragments of habitat

Status: Endangered. Global population: 1,500-2000 with a decreasing trend. Past clearance for agriculture and livestock grazing has fragmented habitat, and the greatest current threat is large-scale wildfires within remnants, such as occurred in Billiatt Conservation Park. Recent declines in South Australia coincided with droughts and a sequence of extensive fires. This population may not be able to persist or reclaim its former distribution because it is surrounded by large areas of recently burnt heath. Following fires, mallee-heath requires 5-10 years of regeneration before it is suitable for the species. Relatively small changes in habitat quality could cause sudden local declines, and the loss of, or changes to peripheral habitat may affect core habitat. Mallee-heath is used in the east of this birds’ range, and may mean that the strongholds of the species are at most risk from loss to single fire events.

This birds’ habitat is now so fragmented that any single fire event could be catastrophic. The use of strategic fire-breaks has been unsuccessful in protecting subpopulations of this species. Drought also puts pressure on the species, especially in the west of its range, where populations may be thinly distributed as a result, and a long term drought could result in a crash in local populations. Habitat fragmentation has taken place within the area of Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and adjacent Crown land; the area is bisected by the Calder Highway and a railway line, and a swathe of habitat has been removed beneath power lines. Other developments threatening further fragmentation include plans submitted for an industrial toxic waste facility at Nowingi in an area of densely occupied habitat3, in a location which is key to the species's long-term survival, and the Mildura fire plan has proposed to burn a 250 m wide strip down the west side of the Calder Highway. If suitable habitat does not become available to replace current habitat that deteriorates through old age, as compounded by drought and fires, then numbers of this species have the potential to decline sharply within decades

Diet: Insects (mostly arthropods such as ants, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders and bugs) and supplements with seeds

Nesting: Emu-wrens breed in pairs, with the male defending a small territory with regular bursts of song. The female builds a oval-shaped dome nest with a round entrance at the side. It is made from and lined with grasses and placed near the ground in a grass tussock or dense shrubbery. The female incubates the eggs and both parents feed the young, which remain with them for up to two months after fledging.

Cool Facts: This bird is often confused with other wrens; the Southern Emu-wren has longer tail and is darker with more extensive streaking on crown. Fairy-wrens are larger, unstreaked, with non-filamentous tails. The Mallee Emu-wren’s voice trills and twitters like Malurus spp., but higher-pitched. The emu-wrens are named for their six wispy, emu-like tail feathers.

It is very secretive and often cocks it’s tail straight up. Look and listen for on calm days in dense spinifex Triodia.


Found in Songbird ReMix Australia Volume I

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