The little mallee emu-wren is no longer found in South Australia and is only one or two bushfires away from extinction.

Story By Ken Eastwood

South Australia has lost one of its best-looking residents. In the past year or so it has been confirmed that the mallee emu-wren – a cute little bird with a lilac blue face, a 6-centimetre body and an ornate 9cm long tail – has become extinct in the state. Its only remaining populations are in a few isolated spots in western Victoria.

Associate Professor David Paton of the University of Adelaide’s Ecology and Environmental Science department says he has watched the shy birds disappear from his home state over the past few decades. “I first started monitoring them in the early 1990s in Ngarkat Conservation Park [250 kilometres south-east of Adelaide], where there were something like 2000 birds,” David says. “They were widespread. From memory, they were in about 1300 square kilometres, or about half the park, and they just slowly disappeared.”

The emu-wrens weigh only 5–6 grams but are tough enough to survive in the mallee through temperatures ranging from below zero to 45 degrees Celsius. A combination of droughts, which knocked about all bird populations in the mallee, and then large fires dramatically reduced the population by 2014. “I reckon numbers were down to 50 in less than 50sq km by then, so it had crashed substantially,” David says. In January 2014 another large fire devastated Ngarkat and Billiatt conservation parks. “The last nail was that last fire,” David says angrily.

This story excerpt is from Issue #106

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2016