Waterbird breeding in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Murray–Darling Basin is home to a variety of waterbirds.

Many species feed, breed and nest across the Basin's floodplains, wetlands and waterways. These species include:

  • ibis (straw-necked, glossy, and Australian white)
  • egrets
  • herons
  • cormorants
  • pelicans
  • magpie geese
  • brolgas
  • ducks
  • waterhen.

How water for the environment helps

Waterbirds nest in many ways in wetlands. This includes:

  • nesting in trees
  • nesting in or near water
  • trampling vegetation to create a platform for nests.

Water for the environment tops up wetlands. This is crucial, especially if water levels drop too much while birds are breeding. With water at the right level, eggs and baby birds are safe from predators. Parent birds also have easy access to fish and other food.

Cormorants nesting at Gayini in 2022. Photo credit: James Harrison, University of New South Wales
Cormorants nesting at Gayini in 2022. Photo credit: James Harrison, University of New South Wales. (Photos taken during approved scientific monitoring)

The delivery of water for the environment helps support ideal conditions for waterbird breeding. Between 2021 and 2023, the Basin saw the most widespread waterbird breeding in more than 20 years.

While the recent large-scale and widespread waterbird breeding is positive, aerial surveys undertaken each year is showing over the long-term that waterbirds are becoming fewer in number.

We're working to increase the number of waterbirds by helping them to breed. This will take time as chicks grow and mature each year.

Waterbird monitoring and water management

We work with a range of partners to deliver water for the environment to help waterbirds. We rely on the valuable local knowledge, resources and skills of:

  • state governments
  • universities
  • First Nations peoples
  • local landholders
  • various environmental water advisory groups
  • water managers.

The Flow-MER program plays an important part. It tells us how water affects the environment for different species, such as:

  • waterbirds
  • frogs
  • fish
  • other animals
  • vegetation.

The program draws on years of data to help inform water delivery. This makes sure waterbirds receive water at the right place and time for their breeding cycles.

Our Local Engagement Officers (LEOs) live in the regions and have a good understanding of local wetlands and river systems. They work with scientists to keep track of waterbird populations.

Our LEOs talk about waterbird behaviour at local stakeholder forums. To find a LEO in your area, visit Local engagement.

More information

For more information, visit: