Historical information

The world’s most ecologically distinct bird lives in the native grasslands of Victoria - but only just.

The plains-wanderer is a small bird that was once widespread across the grasslands of south-eastern Australia. Today there are fewer than 1000 mature birds in the wild. The plains-wanderer is under threat due to habitat loss caused by overgrazing, cropping and suburban sprawl.

Unlike most other birds, female wanderers are larger and more colourful and the males take care of the chicks. They are only about 15cm tall and weigh between 40-80g for the male and 55-90g for the female. Their intricate plumage mirrors the colours of their grassland home so they blend in perfectly with their surroundings.

The plains-wanderer’s origins date back to when Australia was part of the Gondwana supercontinent over 60 million years ago. They are so biologically distinct that their extinction would result in the loss of a branch of the tree of life.

A fussy grass dweller, they like neither too much nor too little grass. That is where sheep grazing can help. After years of low numbers in Victoria, plains-wanderer populations have been increasing in Terrick Terrick National Park in north west Victoria, as sheep grazing maintains the grass in the park at a suitable level.

With the right management, this ecologically important bird species is continuing to survive in the native grasslands of Victoria. Managing these habitats for the plains-wanderer can also support the conservation of many other threatened plant and animal species.

Object: Nest of plains-wanderers by Mary-Jane Walker, 2020. Outer made from upcycled paper, internal structure steel.

Physical description

Nest of plains-wanderers by Mary-Jane Walker, 2020. Outer made from up cycled paper, internal structure steel.