Threatened Bitterns flock to Riverina rice fields

Four times as many Australasian Bitterns were found in the Bittern Friendly Rice grown by Riverina ricegrowers this year, compared to the benchmark set by the control sites.

In total 23 birds were sighted (compared to six in the control sites) and successful breeding was recorded in one crop.

Despite the challenging season, six landholders took part and grew a total of 277 hectares of Bittern Friendly Rice, said Project Manager Anna Wilson.

“The rice fields of the Riverina provide a unique opportunity for the threatened Bittern with about 40 per cent of their population utilising rice crops over the summer months’ she said.

“Given there’s thought to be less than 1500 mature birds, that’s quite remarkable.”

The main aim of Bittern Friendly Rice is to maximise successful breeding – to do this, early permanent water is required with a minimum period of 130 to 150 days of inundation.

“Maintaining grassy banks and providing adjacent habitat in channels and dams are part of the incentive and are a favoured place for Bitterns to frequent as the season progresses – a great place to look for prey,” Mrs Wilson said.

“We have also trialled growing small areas where additional urea was added so that the rice is taller and thicker to encourage early nesting.”

Fox baiting is being undertaken across all farms taking part in the project as it’s thought chicks and young birds are easy prey for these pests.

Fox baiting will continue until late May to provide additional help to any young birds that are still in the area.

It has been a most unusual year, with little or no breeding recorded.

The eerie boom of the male Bitterns was only heard at two sites in mid-January with fantastic results at one of the Bittern Friendly Crops with four chicks found. When last seen the chicks were doing very well and it is assumed they successfully fledged.

The Boosting the Bunyip Bird Project is supported by Riverina Local Land Services with funding provided by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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