The return of rare native songbirds after local extinction

The western grasswren (Amytornis textilis) is an elusive Australian songbird that was once found from Shark Bay in Western Australia to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

Their range contracted after European colonisation, due to habitat loss and introduced animals like feral cats, and became locally extinct on Dirk Hartog Island.

In October 2022, 85 of these birds were successfully translocated from two different locations back on to Dirk Hartog in an effort to re-establish the population.

These efforts are part of the Dirk Hartog Island National Park “Return to 1616” Ecological Restoration Project: a major conservation science project run by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) that aims to return the habitats of the island to its condition when first visited by the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog in 1616.

Cosmos journalist Imma Perfetto talked to Dr Saul Cowen, a research scientist in Biodiversity and Conservation Science at DBCA, about the Return to 1616 Project, how the birds are faring after translocation, and what’s next for the ecological restoration of the island.

She also spoke to Aline Gibson Vega, a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia, about how her research in genetics and bird behaviour helped determine the number of birds, and from where, that could be safely relocated onto the island.

Watch more: Talking the beauty of birdsong with Dr Dominique Potvin.

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