Tiny mallee emu wrens get lifelines at South Australia's Monarto Zoo and Ngarkat park

The male mallee emu wren's ochre and sky blue colouring is highly sought by bird watchers.
Image courtesy Monarto Zoo

The tiny mallee emu wrens are being given lifelines after being all but wiped out in South Australia during 2014 summer bush fires.

Monarto Zoo in South Australia has created an special aviary to breed an insurance population for this endangered species. The zoo has been engaged as part of a wider threatened mallee bird conservation action plan. This will be the first time the species will be held in captivity and the aviary has been purpose built for the miniature emu wrens weigh around four grams, roughly the same as a teaspoon of sugar.

The emu wren also is being reintroduced to the Ngarkat Conservation Park that straddles the South Australian and Victoria border. These birds were from parts of Victoria's north-west but they were listed as endangered.

Many organisations in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, together with the South Australian government support, devised a breeding program over four years to boost the birds' numbers. One of the groups involved, BirdLife Australia, faced the challenge of finding a net that could capture the little birds. The group had to improvise with large throw nets that covered patches of grass to trap the birds. The next challenge for the birds was to find breeding territory and a good insect population to feed on.

The mallee emu wren, related to the superb fairy wrens common in southern South Australia, are highly sought after by bird watchers, keen to spot the male's striking ochre and sky-blue colours. Their long tail feathers are about twice as long as their head-body length.

Before being left “functionally extinct” in South Australia by the 2014 bushfires, the estimated population of mallee emu wrens in the early 2000s was upwards of 6,000 in Ngarkat Conservation Park.

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