How to help one of Australia’s rarest birds save itself from extinction

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Initial investigations showed the insecticide was very effective in killing the parasite, but Ms Alves knew it would be too much work to hunt down every nest, climb the tree and treat it.

But she remembered a technique that had been used in the Galapagos Islands to help Darwin’s finches fight off a nest parasite. Darwin’s finches are known to pinch clothing that had been hung out to dry and use it for nesting material. Treated items were strategically placed around the island where they would be found by the finches, who unwittingly transferred insecticide back to their nest.

Ms Alves transferred the idea to the pardalote’s forests and experimented with feather dispensers.

The 40-spotted pardalote are unique in using their stubby beaks to “farm” manna - the sugary secretion from white gum eucalyptus trees.

The 40-spotted pardalote are unique in using their stubby beaks to “farm” manna – the sugary secretion from white gum eucalyptus trees. Credit:Fernanda Alves.

“The idea was to transfer the hard job, which is to get up a tree. During the breeding season, they’re looking for nesting materials. In the beginning, it was just a hope, fingers crossed, that they are actually going find it,” she said.

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Feather dispensers were trialled using a $235,000 grant from the federal government, and now 95 per cent of newborn chicks survive in fumigated nests.

More funding will be needed to roll the protection program out at scale, Ms Alves said, with the ultimate goal of reintroducing the birds to mainland Tasmania: “We’re just scratching the surface now.”

“To see these brilliant results using such highly effective and inexpensive conservation methods bodes well for the pardalote’s future,” said federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley.

“Since 2014, we have invested more than $560 million for projects supporting outcomes for threatened species. We are working with leading experts, scientists, traditional owners and local community groups on the ground to help our habitat and wildlife to recover.”

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