A recent review of Australian birds has concluded that the nation has lost six more bird types than was previously acknowledged. This represents a 25 per cent increase in the number of Australian bird extinctions.
“It is a tragedy we might have prevented had only we realised how scarce these birds were,” said Professor Stephen Garnett of Charles Darwin University, who has been leading the study.
The six birds, one species and five subspecies, are the White-breasted White-eye from Norfolk Island, the form of Pied Currawong from western Victoria, the Thick-billed Grasswren from near Alice Springs, the Hooded Robin that once lived on the Tiwi Islands, the Spotted Quail-thrush from the Mount Lofty Ranges near Adelaide and the southern form of Star Finch that once occurred between Townsville and northern New South Wales.
“We were worried about these birds when we last reviewed their status 10 years ago,” Professor Garnett said. “Sadly, no sign of them has turned up in the past decade.”
The grasswren and currawong probably disappeared in the early 20th Century, but all the others were alive in the 1980s and the robin and finch were last seen in the early 1990s.
“There is a very slim chance some individuals might survive, but there have been thorough searches for the species seen most recently, without any luck,” Professor Garnett said.
Supporting these comments, University of Queensland collaborator in the study, Professor Hugh Possingham, said: “This is just more evidence of how badly we have damaged the Australian environment since European settlement.”
“We have extracted enormous economic wealth from Australia, a far greater proportion of the dividend must be invested in biodiversity conservation if we are to stem the loss of our wildlife.”
Birds Australia, BirdLife International, Biosis and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy also took part in the study. It concluded that most of the lost species could have been saved at relatively little expense had their plight been known earlier.
“I guess the good news is that we have lost no birds since the 1990s when we started to appreciate the need for conservation action to save species,” said Graeme Hamilton, CEO of Birds Australia
“We sincerely hope that Australian’s increasing interest in our biological heritage will prevent further avoidable loss.”