EN
Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus
BirdLife is reviewing the status of this species for the 2017 Red List.
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Justification

Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Endangered because it has a very small population which is experiencing an ongoing decline owing to cultivation and overgrazing of natural grassland.

Population justification
The population is estimated to vary from between 5,500–7,000 in good years to around 2,000 birds during periods of widespread drought (Baker-Gabb 2002, Garnett et al. 2011). It is placed in the band 1,000-2,499 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Considering the declines in the area of suitable habitat, this species's population is suspected to be decreasing at an unquantified rate (Garnett and Crowley 2000). The cultivation of native grassland has virtually extinguished the species from southern South Australia and Victoria and is increasing across the Riverina. Even if left to recover, habitat remains unsuitable for decades. Where patches survive, they are often too few and dispersed to be suitable. High levels of grazing cause the desertion of an area, possibly because birds become too vulnerable to predators. It has become effectively extinct in south-west Victoria, south-east South Australia, eastern New South Wales and south-east Queensland.

Distribution and population

Pedionomus torquatus is endemic to Australia. It is recorded from north-central Victoria, eastern South Australia, southern New South Wales around the Riverina and west-central Queensland (Baker-Gabb 2002; Barrett et al. 2003). The population is estimated to vary from c.2000 birds during periods of widespread drought to c.5500–7000 birds after several successive seasons with favourable conditions (Baker-Gabb 2002). A significant proportion of the population occurs in the Riverina region. Here, the population may be as high as 5,500 birds after good years, but can decline to about 1,000 in poor years (Baker-Gabb 2002). The population in west-central Queensland is estimated at 1000 birds, and the north-central Victorian and South Australia populations may hold 500 birds each during good years (Maher and Baker-Gabb 1993; Baker-Gabb 2002). Surveys in the Riverina reveal an on-going decline, with an encounter rate of 0.13 birds/km in 4,286 km of monitoring during the dry years of 2001–2007, compared to 0.3 birds/km in 2,121 km of monitoring in the wetter years of 1984–1986 (Baker-Gabb 2002; Birds Australia 2008).

Ecology

It favours sparse grasslands with c.50% bare ground, widely spaced plants up to 0.1 m high and remaining standing vegetation less than 0.05 m in height. It is sedentary for as long as the habitat remains suitable. May occasionally use lower-quality habitat including cereal stubble, but cannot persist in an agricultural landscape (Garnett et al. 2011). Habitat mapping of 2.3 million ha in the Riverina showed that just 2.3% was primary habitat suitable all year round and 4.3% was secondary habitat that may be periodically occupied (Roberts and Roberts 2001). The female lays 3–5 eggs in a shallow, grass-lined scrape (Marchant and Higgins 1993; Baker-Gabb 1998).

Threats

The cultivation of native grassland has virtually extinguished the species from southern South Australia and Victoria and is increasing across the Riverina. Even if left to recover, habitat remains unsuitable for decades. Where patches survive, they are often too few and dispersed to be suitable. High levels of grazing cause the desertion of an area, possibly because birds become too vulnerable to predators. Pesticides for locust control may kill birds, directly or indirectly through the food chain. Foxes may be significant predators near crops.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Management actions completed or underway include extensive surveys in New South Wales, Victoria and south-east South Australia, detailed research on habitat requirements, recovery planning in New South Wales and Victoria, and incorporation of habitat in the protected-areas estate in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Locust control spraying is now regulated in the species's habitat.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Refine population estimates in Queensland and northern South Australia. Monitor populations and habitat condition, and provide feedback to land-holders. Survey for suitable habitat in New South Wales and Queensland and identify areas of high conservation value for the species. Determine the effects of locust control. Purchase a reserve in the Riverina of over 200 km2. Negotiate refuge areas, ensuring Plains-wanderer habitat is not cultivated, has a 2 km buffer from cultivated land wherever possible, is not overgrazed during drought and is integrated into a regional conservation plan (Garnett et al. 2011). Continue to advocate the use of Green Guard® biological control agent for locust control in Plains-wanderer habitat (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2002). Establish a recovery team.

Identification

15-19 cm. Distinctive, quail-like ground bird. Adult male light brown above with brown rosette and white streak patterning. Fawn-white underparts with black crescents. Adult female has distinctive, white-spotted black collar and broad rufous gorget on upper breast. Juvenile similar to adult male. Similar spp. Similar to buttonquails Turnix spp. but with longer legs. Distinguished in flight from quails and buttonquails by upperwing pattern of white primary patch and broad pale trailing edge, and on ground, by diagnostic female plumage, characteristic upright posture and longer legs. Voice Repeated, low-pitched resonant oo by day and night, in spring. Hints Usually detected at night by spotlighting lightly-grazed grasslands.

Acknowledgements

Text account compilers
Shutes, S., Allinson, T, Stattersfield, A., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Symes, A., McClellan, R., Wheatley, H., Garnett, S.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Pedionomus torquatus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/11/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/11/2017.