Archived 2017 topics: Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus): uplist to Critically Endangered?

Plains-wanderer, Pedionomus torquatus, is endemic to Australia, recorded from north-central Victoria, north-eastern South Australia, southern New South Wales around the Riverina, and west-central Queensland (Barrett et al. 2003, Commonwealth of Australia 2016). It is currently listed as Endangered under criterion C2a(ii) on the basis that is has a very small population which is undergoing a continuing decline as a result of habitat loss and degradation (BirdLife International 2017). However, this species was recently reviewed by the Australian Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) and uplisted to Critically Endangered in Australia (TSSC 2015).

The species inhabits sparse grasslands with c.50% bare ground, with most vegetation 5-15cm in height with some widely spaced plants up to 30 cm high (Baker-Gabb et al. 1990, Baker-Gabb et al. 2016). It may remain in an area for as long as the habitat remains suitable, and will occasionally use lower-quality habitat including cereal stubble, but cannot persist in a cropped landscape (Garnett et al. 2011). The cultivation of native grassland has virtually extirpated the species from southern South Australia and Victoria, and cultivation is increasing across the New South Wales Riverina (Garnett et al. 2011). Where suitable patches of habitat survive, they are often too few and dispersed to be suitable for this species. Grazing can also affect this species, with too much or too little leading to desertion of an area by the species. Too much grazing may lead to the species being more vulnerable to predators (Baker-Gabb et al.1990), while too little after rainfall and rapid grass-growth will mean that it the habitat is too dense for the species (Baker-Gabb et al. 2016). A range of other threats may impact upon this species, the most serious of which may be climatic events such as drought and flood, which will impact upon habitat management, and so make it harder to appropriately manage areas for this species (TSSC 2015).

Garnett et al. (2011) estimated the total number of mature individuals to be c.2,000 and decreasing. Since then, significant declines in Plains-wanderer numbers have been reported in Victoria and New South Wales, and the population size has more recently been estimated at <1,000 mature individuals (TSSC 2015). Monitoring and annual surveys conducted across the Northern Plains of Victoria between 2010 and 2015 indicated a decline in numbers of > 90% during this period (Baker-Gabb et al. 2016), while monitoring across the New South Wales Riverina (which held the highest densities of this species [Garnett et al. 2011]) detected a decline of 93% across the region over the period from 2001 to 2014 (Wilson et al. 2014). The generation length for this species is c. 7 years, and so declines over 3 generations could be even greater than those presented. On the other hand, as the species will move away from unsuitable areas, part of these declines could represent the species moving to new, as yet unfound, sites. However, in the absence of any evidence for this species moving to new areas, the rate of decline in this species may be conservatively considered to be >80% over the past 3 generations. Hence the species warrants listing as Critically Endangered under criterion A2ac.

We welcome any comments and further information regarding this proposed uplisting.



Baker-Gabb D. J.; Benshemesh J. S.; Maher P. N. 1990. A revision of the distribution, status and management of the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus. Emu 90: 161-168.

Baker-Gabb, D.; Antos, M.; Brown G. 2016. Recent decline of the critically endangered Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), and the application of a simple method for assessing its cause: changes in grassland structure. Ecological Management and Restoration.

Barrett, G.; Silcocks, A.; Barry, S.; Cunningham, R.; Poulter, R. 2003. The new atlas of Australian birds. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Victoria, Australia.

BirdLife International. 2017. Species factsheet: Pedionomus torquatus. Downloaded from on 14/03/2017.

Commonwealth of Australia. 2016. National recovery plan for the Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Garnett, S. T.; Szabo, J. K.; Dutson, G. 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

TSSC. 2015. Approved conservation advice for Pedionomus torquatus (Plains-wanderer). Threatened Species Scientific Committee, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Wilson, C.; Ingwersen D.; Parker D. 2014. Review of OEH Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus monitoring data 2001-2014. A report for the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW. BirdLife Australia, Melbourne.

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3 Responses to Archived 2017 topics: Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus): uplist to Critically Endangered?

  1. Phil Gregory says:

    I hope someone has contacted Phil Maher and got his input here, as he is the most experienced with this iconic bird? The drought conditions do seem to have impacted heavily and I’d sure be worried about it given the climatic variability we are experiencing, though our government is of course pretending all is just fine. I suspect CR could be appropriate, but do get Phil M’s input please if you have not already done so.

  2. Stephen Garnett says:

    The information available suggests this species has not responded to favourable conditions in Victoria and NSW in the way that it might have been expected to do, and is indeed in substantial trouble. While a smal captive colony has now been established, conern for the species is widely shared among those, like David Baker-Gabb, who have been working on the species for many decades.

  3. Hannah Wheatley (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classifications outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 4 August, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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