It’s been a big year for waterbirds, with the most widespread breeding across the Murray-Darling Basin in more than 20 years.
Tens of thousands of waterbirds have bred at multiple wetlands across the Basin, from Straw-necked Ibis at Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes) in northern New South Wales to Black Swans in the Lower Lakes and Coorong in South Australia.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) has had a team of scientists monitoring these breeding events to assess how water for the environment is making a difference, as part of the Flow-MER (Monitoring, Evaluation and Research) Program.
CSIRO Senior Research Scientist and Flow-MER Researcher, Dr Heather McGinness said 2022 was a special year for bird breeding.
“There really is a sense of joy seeing large numbers of baby birds thriving. With conditions so good, you see many different species nesting near each other and the parent birds are much easier to see out and about during the day because they are so busy gathering food for all the chicks.
“It’s pleasing to see our research informing decisions on delivering water for the environment. When water is in the right place at the right time, it provides habitat for waterbirds,” she said.
University of New South Wales (Sydney) Senior Research Fellow, Dr Kate Brandis said she and her research team along with monitoring staff at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment had also been busy monitoring bird breeding events across 13 sites.
“We’re certainly more optimistic about waterbird populations as a result of these breeding events. It’s not lost on us that these are stunning places to work and every year we’re building our knowledge to better protect these precious species,” she said.
Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Hilton Taylor said water for the environment has played its part in supporting waterbird habitats.
“Water for the environment was delivered to help wetlands through the worst of the drought conditions, ensuring these sites were healthy once the floods returned.
“We have also been delivering environmental flows to keep water levels stable at the breeding sites – if levels drop away too quickly, it can reduce the available food and expose nests to predators,” he said.
The CEWO works with a range of partners to deliver water for the environment across the Basin. Invaluable knowledge, resources and skill come from State Governments, First Nations, local communities and landholders, industry and environmental groups, and scientists.
- The types of birds currently breeding across the Basin include Straw-necked ibis, Australian white ibis, Glossy ibis, Royal spoonbill, Pelicans, Egrets, Cormorants and Night herons. Scientists also observed some endangered species such as Australian bitterns.
- Estimated numbers so far include:
- 10,000 pairs of waterbirds, mainly Straw-necked ibis, at Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes)
- 30,000 pairs of waterbirds including Royal spoonbills, Cormorants, Egrets, Nankeen night herons, Glossy ibis and Straw-necked ibis in the Gwydir Wetlands
- 150,0000 nests of Ibis, Egrets, Spoonbills and Night herons at Macquarie Marshes
- 15,000 Pelican pairs at Lake Brewster, 25,000 Ibis pairs at Lake Cowal and 25,000 Ibis pairs at Booligal Swamp in the Lachlan valley
- 30,000 pairs of Ibis and Spoonbills and over 10,000 pairs of breeding Pelicans in the lower Murrumbidgee wetlands
- over 2,600 mixed nests of Australian white ibis, Straw-necked ibis, Royal spoonbills, Nankeen night herons in Barmah-Millewa Forest
- 7000 Black swans in the Coorong, an increase of 34% from 2021.
For further information about the Flow MER program, waterbird breeding and tracking plus profiles on Dr McGinness and Dr Brandis go to: