Saturday, March 25, 2023

Australia’s unique bird may disappear

The red hawk attracts observers and ornithologists for its emblematic plumage, marked wings and enormous claws. However, the species has lost a third of its historical habitat. Its outcome may put the balance of Australia’s ecosystem against the ropes

The red goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus), Australia’s rarest raptor, faces extinction. The headland of the York Peninsula is now the only place in the state of Queensland where breeding records can be made. Chris MacColl, a researcher at the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, led research published in Southern Emu Ornithology, which revealed the alarming condition of this animal. The declines of these birds amaze the scientist.

“It is endemic to Australia, so it is not found anywhere else in the world. In addition, it has only one close relative, the Bürgers harp (Erythrotriorchis buergersi), which lives in New Guinea. In four decades, the species has lost a third of its historical distribution,” explains MacColl SINC.

The predator is the first order, so its presence depends on the balance of the ecosystem and the protection of other species, according to the researcher. “Animalism ensures that species further down the food chain are not overabundant.”

The presence of the red starfish is important for the balance of the ecosystem

However, what makes it special is that it is one of the most effective types of umbrellas. “This means that if we have created a specific conservation reserve for these birds, they will indirectly protect many other species, with the largest areas of habitat to survive,” the environmentalist highlights.

These reserves would primarily protect “tropical savannah animals in northern Australia, including other threatened species such as the black cockatoo, the northern quoll, the four-footed black myrtle and the golden-shouldered parakeet,” he says.

The results of the research show that the red goshawk “barely survives in 30% of the areas where it was previously known to inhabit,” the author laments. The species is thought to be extinct in New South Wales and the southern half of Queens.

The scientist also recognizes “a notable decline in north Queensland, making Cape York Peninsula the last place in the state where populations are still known to breed”. In this regard, MacColl points out that “the Top End, Tiwi and Kimberley islands are the last remaining strongholds for the red hawk, so northern Australia is critical to its survival.”

Male and female Red Goshawks will wake up in the Australian sky. / Patrick Webster

If it goes extinct, “Northern stars would lose an emblematic species capable of maintaining huge areas of tropical savannah habitat and the biodiversity that lives in them,” warns the researcher. “The health of these ecosystems would be compromised even without the important ecological services that the red hawk provides through its predatory behavior.”

MacColl believes that urgent measures should be implemented to prevent the disappearance of this emblematic animal. “The tropical savannahs of northern Australia, the last place where the species is preserved, are the largest and most intact in the world,” he said. For this reason, “increasing the conservation of these landscapes is essential for the survival of the remaining populations of the red harp.”

However, “the encroachment of these areas on mining, gas and agricultural activity is increasing”, laments environmentalists. In addition, for the correct protection of the raptor “it is necessary to improve the action of fires and weeds in their breeding areas”.

Professor James Watson, co-author of the paper, points out that “these projects pose a real threat to the species, taking into account what we observed throughout its eastern part.” In this sense, it emphasizes that its most painful loss forces governments and communities to be proactive to preserve the remaining places.

Idiosyncrasy of birds in northern Australia

This unique raptor has long been captured by birds with conspicuous red-brown feathers, sharp wings, heavy yellow feet, and huge claws.

The bird stands out with its wonderful feathers, wings, yellow legs, and claws.

The research team analyzed four decades of inspections by citizens to uncover worrying trends. “Threats driving the red harp’s decline require further investigation, but we believe habitat loss and degradation played a key role,” says MacColl.

The authors are asking for government support to change the national conservation status of this harp from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’. This change would allow it to receive a higher maintenance priority.

  • McColl, C. et al. “Rapid and recent range collapse of the Australian Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiata”. Emu – Southern Ornithology (2023)
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