Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang)

Background

The Scarlet Robin (Petroica multicolor) was declared a vulnerable species on 20 May 2015 (Instrument No. DI2015-88) under the former Nature Conservation Act 1980 (NC Act 1980). The declaration followed a recommendation by the Flora and Fauna Committee, guided by criteria formerly set out in Instrument No. DI2008-170 (Table 1). On 3 June 2015 the Committee recommended the scientific name for the Scarlet Robin be changed to P. boodang following a molecular study (Kearns et al 2015) and a revision of the taxonomy of Australian passerine bird species (Dickinson and Christidis 2014).

The NC Act 1980 was repealed and replaced with the current Nature Conservation Act 2014 (NC Act 2014) on 11 June 2015. Part 2.4 of the NC Act 2014 established the Scientific Committee to replace the Flora and Fauna Committee. On 29 July 2015 (Instrument No. NI2015-438) listings of threatened species as declared under the NC Act 1980, including the formerly declared vulnerable species, the Scarlet Robin, were listed under the NC Act 2014. The scientific name of the Scarlet Robin was updated to P. boodang on 30 May 2016.

Criteria satisfied

2.2.Species is observed, estimated, inferred or suspected to be at risk of premature extinction in the ACT region in the medium term future, as demonstrated by:

2.2.1. Current serious decline in population or distribution from evidence based on direct observation, including comparison of historic and current records.

Subsection 100(a)(i) of the NC Act 2014 outlines requirements for action plans.

Measures proposed in this action plan complement those proposed in the action plan for Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland (ACT Government 2004) and for listed threatened woodland bird species such as the Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata), Brown Treecreeper (Climateris picumnus), White-winged Triller (Lalage sueurii), Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera), Painted Honeyeater (Grantiella picta), Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera  phrygia), Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) and Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor).

Description

The Scarlet Robin, P. boodang, is 12–14 centimetres in length and averages 13 grams in weight. Adult male birds have bold red, black and white plumage and females are brownish with a red/orange wash on the breast (Pizzey and Knight 2012) (Figures 1a and 1b). Young birds resemble the adult female.

P. boodang is one of three red breasted robins in Australia, the others being the Flame Robin
(P. phoenicea) and the Red Capped Robin (P. goodenovii). P. boodang is distinguishable from the other red breasted robins by the obvious white forehead and red wash on the breast in females. Unlike P. phoenicea, the red breast plumage colour of P. boodang does not continue up the throat to the bill. Distinctions from P. goodenovii are P. boodang’s lack of a scarlet red cap in the males and P. goodenovii’s lack of a dull reddish wash on the forehead in females (Pizzey and Knight 2012).

DISTRIBUTION

P. boodang is found in south-eastern Australia (extreme south-east Queensland to Tasmania, western Victoria and south-east South Australia) and south-west Western Australia. In NSW it occupies open forests and woodlands from the coast to the inland slopes (Higgins and Peter 2002), with dispersing birds sometimes appearing in autumn or winter on the eastern fringe of the inland plains (NSW Scientific Committee 2010).

P. boodang is distributed widely across the ACT in eucalypt woodlands and dry, open forest, particularly where shrubs, logs, coarse woody debris and native grasses are present, but is generally absent from open areas where no trees remain (Taylor and COG 1992). Figure 2 shows a distribution map of P. boodang in the ACT, summarised for 1 July 1982 to 30 June 2014 and based on records of observations submitted to Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) and eBird Australia (COG 2015a).

In the warmer months, P. boodang can be found mainly at higher altitude in the foothills of the ranges in open forest and shrubby habitats. Occupancy rates decline significantly at higher elevations over the cooler months; birds are more often seen in  lowland woodland,  peri-urban woodland, grazed paddocks with scattered trees, gardens and parklands at lower altitude during autumn and winter (Taws et al 2012).The current COG Annotated Checklist describes P. boodang as an ‘Uncommon breeding resident/altitudinal migrant’ in the ACT (COG 2015b).

The P. boodang records (Figure 2) were supplied by Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG Database), including from eBird Australia (eBird Australia 2016) and excluding the Garden Bird Survey data (COG 2014). P. boodang distribution has been summarised for 187x2.5 minute grids covering the ACT and the Googong Reservoir in NSW, currently managed by the ACT. The mapping classes recognise natural breaks inherent in the data to best group similar values using Jenk’s Natural Breaks algorithm (Jenks 1967).

POPULATION TRENDS

Analysis of data from COG’s Woodland Bird Survey (Bounds et al 2010) found strong evidence of decline in P. boodang abundance in the ACT. More recent research has confirmed P. boodang as one of five woodland-dependent species showing a long term decline in abundance over 14 years (Rayner 2015 PhD thesis unpubl.). The study analysed 56 species, with the Grey Shrike-thrush, Mistletoebird, Striated Thornbill and Tree Martin also being found to be in decline.

P. boodang has also been classified as one of three ‘urban avoider’ bird species (including the Striated Thornbill and Rufous Whistler)—native birds that show a long-term declining population in the ACT. Urban avoider species are more likely to be observed at sites at an increasing distance from the urban fringe (0–3 kilometres), are likely to be migratory or dispersive species, and are likely to be smaller-bodied, woodland-dependent species that rely on mid to upper canopy structures for nesting (Rayner et al 2015).

CONSERVATION STATUS

P. boodang has a listed conservation status under legislation as follows:

Australian Capital Territory:
Vulnerable, Section 91 Nature Conservation Act 2014; Special Protection Status species, Section 109 Nature Conservation Act 2014.

New South Wales:
Vulnerable, listed in Part 1 of Schedule 2
Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

South Australia:
Rare, listed as ‘P. m. boodang (eastern subspecies)’ in Schedule 9 National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

HABITAT AND ECOLOGY

Appendix 1(a) describes the habitat and ecology of P. boodang in detail.

THREATS

Following a detailed literature review of the habitat and ecology of P. boodang in eastern Australia, four key threats to maintaining a viable, stable and breeding population in the ACT have been identified.  The four key threats, in decreasing order of significance, are:

  • Habitat loss and degradation
  • Predation
  • Climate change
  • Competition

Appendix 1(b) documents the four key threats in detail, citing sources from the scientific literature.

OBJECTIVES AND INTENDED MANAGEMENT ACTIONS

Five management objectives have been identified, each to be achieved by management actions, to address the risk of premature extinction of P. boodang.

Objectives

  1. Identify, protect and restore breeding and foraging habitat critical to survival of the species in the ACT.
  2. Manage critical habitat to conserve the species in response to the identified threats.
  3. Promote and support the survey, monitoring and research of the species in the ACT to better understand its ecology and conservation needs.
  4. Co-operate with state and local government agencies in formulating and implementing conservation measures.
  5. Increase community awareness of the need to protect the species in its habitat in the ACT and engage in  community-based conservation action.

Actions

Table 1 identifies the proposed management actions and indicators against each of the objectives.

Table 1. Key objectives, actions and indicators

Objective

Action

Indicator

1. Identify, protect and restore P. boodang’s breeding and foraging habitat.

1a. For environmental offsetting purposes treat P. boodang as a ‘significant species’ predicted by vegetation types assessed according to the method for assessing ecological community credits.

1a. P. boodang is included within the Environmental Offsets Calculator for assessing ecological community credits by July 2018.

1b. Map the location and extent of prime occupied breeding and foraging habitat of P. boodang in the ACT (including through working with volunteers) to guide management activity.

1b. Maps of breeding sites and the current extent of foraging habitat occupied by P. boodang are prepared by July 2018.

1c. Retain currently occupied P. boodang breeding and foraging habitat in open forest and woodland on public and rural leasehold land and increase the size of these habitat patches by planting indigenous trees and shrubs to provide additional foraging habitat for P. boodang.

1c. The area of currently occupied breeding and foraging habitat for P. boodang is increased.

1d. Restore P. boodang’s degraded open forest or woodland habitat by replacing missing structural layers to provide protection from predation (e.g. Pied Currawong) and deter Noisy Miners (e.g. mid-layer wattles, shrub layer and ground layer species) using locally indigenous species.

1d. The areas of treated open forest or woodland habitat are more structurally diverse.

1e. Where feasible, establish ‘fenced corridor’ or ‘stepping stone’ plantings (plots a minimum 20x20 metres wide and a maximum of 100 metres apart) to reconnect isolated habitat and deter Noisy Miners.

1e. The number of established plantings increases.

2. Manage habitat to conserve P. boodang.

Coarse woody debris2a. Maintain a program to place ‘coarse woody debris’ on the ground in known or potential breeding or foraging habitat suitable for P. boodang.

2a. Area of breeding or foraging habitat enhanced by placement of ‘coarse woody debris’ or by similar ground layer enhancement treatments increases.

Grazing2b. Encourage landowners to fence areas of known forest or woodland habitat suitable for P. boodang to control grazing and to facilitate shrub and tree regeneration.

2b. The area of fenced forest or woodland habitat suitable for P. boodang increases.

Fire2c. For areas of known suitable P. boodang habitat in open forest or woodland, take account of research findings on the optimum prescribed burning regime favouring Category C species (i.e. P. boodang).

2c. Ecological guidelines for maintaining habitat conditions for Category C species (i.e. P. boodang) are incorporated into planned prescribed burning regimes.

Predation2d. Maintain or extend existing predator-proof fencing and cat containment zones where they coincide with known P. boodang breeding sites or potential breeding habitat (e.g. Mulligans Flat/Goorooyarroo, Molonglo Valley).

2d. The area protected through predator proof fencing and cat containment zones that coincides with P. boodang habitat increases.

2e. Monitor effectiveness of predator reduction measures for P. boodang.

2e. Effectiveness of predation reduction measures on known or potential P. boodang breeding sites is reported.

2f. Maintain control of exotic, berry-bearing trees or shrubs e.g. Sweet Briar Rose, Hawthorn, Blackberry) in open forest and woodland and replace removed woody weeds with locally indigenous species, particularly bi-pinnate wattles (Acacia spp.), native shrubs (e.g. Bursaria sp., Kunzea sp.) or she-oaks (Allocasuarina spp.) to reduce food resources for the abundant, predatory Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina).

2f. Area of exotic trees or shrubs cleared and replaced with locally indigenous species increases.

3. Promote and support a survey, monitoring and research program.

3a. Continue monitoring P. boodang occurrence at permanent forest and woodland monitoring sites including measuring relevant habitat parameters (i.e. canopy cover, shrub cover, ground cover, logs, fallen branches and litter).

3a. The COG Woodland Survey (Bounds et al 2010), including the relevant habitat parameters, or its equivalent, continues to be conducted each year on a quarterly basis.

3b. Additional monitoring by volunteers of P. boodang occurrence to capture responses to climate change (e.g. arrival/departure times at lower altitude sites, timing/altitude of breeding).

3b. Data on P. boodang’s arrival/departure times and timing/altitude of breeding is recorded and analysed.

3c. Support research initiatives, for example at PhD/Masters level, to fill gaps in knowledge of P. boodang:

  • »critical habitat areas (i.e. breeding sites, including lowland habitats)
  • »the foraging ecology of P. boodang and the habitat variables determining optimum foraging habitat
  • »vulnerability to predators
  • »seasonal migration/movements and habitat corridors.

3c. At least one research project is initiated within the first five years of the action plan’s commencement.

3d. Take new research findings into account by modifying mapped breeding and foraging habitat and reviewing management actions.

3d. ACTmapi is updated and management actions are revised.

4. Co-operate with state and local government agencies.

4a.  Collaborate in joint monitoring and research initiatives for the bio-region that take into account management issues for threatened species dependent on open forest and woodland habitat (e.g. P. boodang).

4a. At least one joint monitoring and research initiative is undertaken.

5. Increase community awareness of and engagement in managing P. boodang as a vulnerable species.

5a. Collaborate with community groups (e.g. Landcare, Parkcare and catchment groups) and citizen science groups (e.g. COG, eBird Australia, Canberra Nature Map) promoting both incidental and systematic data collection of P. boodang sightings, in particular:

  • »breeding behaviour (i.e. nest site location, characteristics, breeding success and predation)
  • »altitudinal migration (i.e. arrival/departure, breeding dates, use of wildlife corridors/habitat patches, proximity to urban areas).

5a. Records of submitted and targeted information collected on P. boodang behaviour, distribution and altitudinal migration show the rates of recording have increased, e.g. as reported in the COG Annual Bird Report for the ACT, COG (2015a).

5b. Collaborate with volunteer community groups and rural landholders at suitable fora (e.g. Parkcare; Rural Landholders Association; Fringe fora; Conservation Research) to demonstrate conservation actions (e.g. woody weed control, planting, coarse woody debris placement, temporary grazing) that will improve habitat conditions for small, passerine birds, including P. boodang.

5b. A number of conservation workshops are held at least on a biennial basis.

Box 1 - Adaptive resource management

The Adaptive Resource Management (ARM) approach was conceived as a technical–ecological model to deal with uncertainty (Walters and Holling 1990, Allan 2007). Consequently ARM involves learning from implementation; learning opportunities need to be identified, hypotheses stated and different management treatments tested.  Of necessity, ARM also focuses on the problem of using such new knowledge in policy and planning (e.g. Stankey et al 2003).

The ACT Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23 (ACT Government 2013) signals a shift away from reliance on static planning documents towards more flexible tools designed for adaptive management and feedback into implementation cycles.

Interactive mapping tools may be able to be used to support ARM in the context of this action plan.  Mapping of habitat and setting baselines is an essential first step in adaptive management.  Statistical or mathematical models could be developed using spatially referenced and/or time-series data based on P. boodang occurrence to predict or trade-off future management scenarios (e.g. use of prescribed fire). In most cases, in order to be readily understood, such modelled output would need to be mapped.

Monitoring is crucial if learning by conservation managers is to occur and to assist in review of this action plan.  Under s.108 of the NC Act 2014 the Conservator of Flora and Fauna must monitor the effectiveness of an action plan and make the findings publicly accessible.

Implementation and Review of this Action Plan

Implementation of this action plan will result in new knowledge about the habitat and ecology of P. boodang. This knowledge should inform implementation of relevant actions in this action plan.  To emphasise the importance of new knowledge in implementing this action plan, specific benchmarks have been included for three actions to highlight the need to implement these actions as a high priority. These actions are numbered 1a, 1b and 3c (see Table 1).

New knowledge will also inform review of the action plan. Under s.108 of the NC Act 2014 the Conservator of Flora and Fauna must report to the Minister about each action plan at least once every five years and make the report publicly accessible within 30 days. The Scientific Committee must review an action plan every 10 years, or at any other time at the Conservator’s request.

Acknowledgments

This action plan was prepared by the Conservator of Flora and Fauna situated in the Environment and Planning Directorate, ACT Government. Use of the bird database held by the Canberra Ornithologists Group is gratefully acknowledged.

Glossary

Altitudinal migrantA species that breeds at higher altitude in summer and migrates to lower altitude areas in winter.

Breeding recordA breeding record for P. boodang, including any of the following activities: carrying food (‘cf’), copulation (‘co’), display (‘di’) or dependent young (‘dy’).

Critical habitat Habitat that is critical to the survival of a species or ecological community (Dictionary, s.3 of the Nature Conservation Act 2014.)

CongenericA species which is a member of the same genus as another species.

DependentA bird fed by its parents.

DispersingA species spreading to other areas, often after breeding has ceased.

MigrantA bird that moves between locations in a regular annual cycle, usually breeding in one and wintering in another.

Nesting recordedA breeding record for P. boodang including any of the following nesting activities: sitting on (‘on’), building a nest (‘nb), a nest with eggs (‘ne’) or a nest with young (‘ny’).

PasserineA member of the order Passeriformes, a perching song-bird with three forward-pointing toes and one rear-pointing toe.

References

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PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS

Ms Jenny Bounds, Conservation Officer, Canberra Ornithologists Group.

Dr Laura Rayner, Post-doctoral Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University.

David McDonald, Mark Clayton, Canberra Ornithologists Group.

Paul Fennell, Data Manager, Canberra Ornithologists Group.

Appendix 1(a)

HABITAT AND ECOLOGY

P. boodang lives in dry eucalypt forest and woodlands, usually with trees and shrubs present and an open or grassy understorey. The species lives in both mature and regrowth vegetation. It occasionally occurs in wet forest or near wetlands. Shrub cover, native grasses, a healthy eucalypt canopy, abundant logs and fallen timber are important components of its habitat (Taws et al 2012).

P. boodang are quiet and unobtrusive foragers found on or near the ground and on branches and the trunks of shrubs and trees (Frith 1984, Higgins and Peter 2002). They forage from low perches, fence-posts, tree trunks, logs or the ground, pouncing on small insects and other invertebrates. They sometimes forage in the shrub or canopy layer.

Birds usually occur singly or in pairs, occasionally in small family parties. Pairs stay together all year round. In autumn and winter P. boodang joins mixed flocks of other small insectivorous birds that forage through dry forests and woodlands.

P. boodang breeds on ridges, hills and foothills of the western slopes, the Great Dividing Range and eastern coastal regions of NSW; and occasionally breeds up to 1000 metres in altitude. A similar pattern of breeding occurs in the ACT.

P. boodang forms breeding pairs that defend a breeding territory. They mainly breed between July and January although in recent years earliest breeding dates in the ACT have tended to be later in August or early September (COG 2014, 2015a).

P. boodang may raise two or three broods a season. The nest, an open cup made of plant fibres and cobwebs, is often built in the fork of a tree that is usually more than two metres above the ground. Nests are often found in a dead branch on a live tree or in a dead tree or shrub. Eggs are pale greenish-, bluish- or brownish-white, with brown spots; clutch size ranges from one to four. The generation time of P. boodang has been estimated at five years based on the congeneric Flame Robin, P. phoenicea (Garnett and Crowley 2000).

Critical habitat

For the purposes of this action plan, the critical habitat of P. boodang is defined as its breeding habitat in open forest and woodland areas.

Appendix 1(b)

THREATS

Habitat loss and degradation

The main threat to P. boodang is the loss of its open forest or woodland breeding and foraging habitat (NSW Scientific Committee 2010) and habitat degradation (Radford and Bennett 2007). In comparing surveyed woodland sites stratified by habitat and land use category, P. boodang was found to be:

  • less common in habitat patches less than:
  • 30 hectares in area with no tree cover within
  • 200 metres and less than 2% cover within 1 kilometre
  • less common at sites surrounded by cattle grazing
  • absent from sites surrounded by cereal cropping (Barrett et al 2003).

Nest sites, food sources and foraging substrates (i.e. standing dead timber, log and coarse woody debris) are susceptible to depletion by firewood collection and ‘tidying up’ of rough pasture (e.g. mowing, slashing) and overgrazing (Recher et al 2002, Olsen et al 2005). However, P. boodang occurrence (presence/absence) can be positively associated with habitat patch size and components of habitat complexity such as increasing tree canopy cover, shrub cover, ground cover, logs, fallen branches and litter (Watson et al 2003).

P. boodang habitat may become unsuitable if dense regeneration (e.g. wattles) occurs after bushfires in forest or woodland. Research into bird and animal responses to fire in dry forests and woodlands has identified P. boodang as a ‘Response C’ species. Response C species show a long-term decline post-fire with or without a short-term increase in numbers.  Although the response may be favourable to these species in the short term, regeneration of the shrub layer renders the habitat unsuitable after a few years. Eventual species recovery is expected as the shrub layer thins out over time. However, there is insufficient knowledge about when this would happen (MacHunter et al 2009).

Predation

Open nesting, small, passerine birds (e.g. robins, flycatchers, whistlers and honeyeaters) experience poor nesting success in fragmented and degraded eucalypt woodlands (Woinarski 1985, Robinson 1990, Ford et al 2001, Higgins and Peter 2002). The Pied Currawong Strepera graculina is a nest predator whose population has increased significantly in eastern Australia to become a common breeding bird in urban and peri-urban areas (NSW Scientific Committee 2010). A Pied Currawong population increase is also evident in urban Canberra (COG 2009, COG 2015c). Debus (2006 a,b) investigated whether the Pied Currawong has become a threat to P. boodang and Yellow Robin’s (Eopsaltria australis) breeding productivity by testing whether culling of currawongs during the robins’ breeding season led to increased breeding success in remnant woodland at Imbota, near Armidale, northern NSW. Debus found that culling led to a twofold increase in nest success, higher fledgling rates and increased nest survival rates for both robin species. The study confirmed that predation by the Pied Currawong was a major cause of nest failure together with a wide range of other nest predators (e.g. mammals and reptiles) in the cull area (Debus 2006a,b).

Barratt (1997) studied predation by house cats on wildlife in Canberra. Information on the composition of vertebrate prey caught by cats was collected by recording prey deposited at cat owners’ residences over 12 months. A total of 1961 prey items comprising 67 species were collected or reported. Birds comprised 27% of the total (14% native, 10% introduced, 3% unidentified). Of the 47 bird species identified as prey, 41 were native bird species.

On Norfolk Island the Scarlet Robin (P. multicolor, formerly P. b. multicolor) is thought to be affected by cat (Felis catus) and black rat (Rattus rattus) predation and cat and rat control measures were recommended (Director of National Parks 2010; Garnett and Franklin 2014). Predation by feral cats (F. catus) and robbing of nests and predation of fledgling by rats (Rattus sp.) are recognised as threats to P. boodang in NSW (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage 2016a).

Climate change

An assessment of P. boodang’s likely response to climate change has been undertaken as part of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett and Franklin 2014). The comparison of climate suitability for the P. boodang species as a whole showed the suitability as mapped for 1985 contracting southwards by about 50% in total area by 2085, but remaining relatively extensive and including the entire ACT within the modelled species distribution. The two Australian mainland subspecies P. b. boodang (eastern Australia) and P. b. campbelli (south-western Australia) were assessed as being of ‘medium’ sensitivity to climate change (Garnett and Franklin 2014).

Competition

The Australian Government (March 2013) and the NSW Government (September 2013) have listed the ‘Aggressive exclusion of birds from forest or woodland habitat by abundant Noisy Miners’ as a Key Threatening Process under legislation (Department of Environment 2014). In making the declaration, the NSW Scientific Committee recognised P. boodang as one of a range of listed threatened species which may be adversely affected by aggressive exclusion by abundant Noisy Miners (NSW Scientific Committee 2013). The Noisy Miner, Manorina melanocephala, has benefited from the large-scale vegetation changes, such as fragmentation, that accompanied European settlement of Australia (Higgins et al 2001; Grey et al 2010, Maron et al 2011) and, as a result, has increased in abundance (Szabo et al 2010). In the ACT, since 1991 the reporting rate for the Noisy Miner in COG’s Annual Bird Report increased from 4.3% to 21% in 2010–11 (COG 2015d). Data analysis from across south-eastern Australia has shown Noisy Miner densities of 0.8/hectare or larger are strongly negatively correlated with small to medium sized native birds (Mac Nally et al 2012). The experimental removal of Noisy Miners from habitat patches results in the re-colonisation of small to medium sized birds (Grey et al 1997, 1998; Debus 2008) even in the absence of restoration of habitat structure.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Further information on this action plan or other threatened species and ecological communities can be obtained from:

Environment and Planning Directorate,
ACT Government

Phone: 13 22 81