This species has a small and severely fragmented range within which habitat is continuing to decline owing to
fire. It is suspected to be undergoing a very rapid population reduction and is therefore classified as Endangered. It requires immediate sensitive habitat management to help slow this
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Distribution and populationStipiturus mallee
13-14.5 cm. Tiny-bodied, streaked wren with brown, filamentous tail of 8-9.5 cm. Grey-brown upperparts, coarsely streaked darker. Rufous cap. Orange-buff below in both sexes. Male has sky-blue face and bib. Female whitish around eye, rufous only on forehead. Juvenile plainer. Similar spp. Confusion unlikely. Southern Emu-wren S. malachurus has longer tail and is darker with more extensive streaking on crown. Fairy-wrens Malurus spp. are larger, unstreaked, with non-filamentous tails. Voice Trills and twitters like Malurus spp., but higher-pitched. Hints Secretive. Often cocks tail. Look and listen for on calm days in dense spinifex Triodia.
has a severely fragmented distribution in the Victorian and South Australian mallee regions, Australia
, south and east of the Murray River. It is currently found in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, patchily distributed across the Murray- Sunset reserve complex and extremely rare in a small area in the eastern part of Wyperfeld National Park (Clarke and Brown 2007). In South Australia it occurs at a few small sites in Ngarkat National Park and, though last recorded from Billiatt Conservation Park in 1987, a few birds persist at the park’s edge (S. Brown in litt
. in Garnett et al
. 2011). Birds are unlikely to disperse more than 5 km, meaning that this species's subpopulations are effectively isolated (D. Paton in litt
. 2006). It was last recorded in Bronzewing Flora and Fauna Reserve in 1997 and is considered extinct from Annuello and Wathe Fauna and Flora Reserves (Clarke and Brown 2007, Watson 2011). The population has been estimated at 15,307 (7,672–35,584) mature individuals (taking into account a male-skewed sex ratio), 14,300 of which are in the Murray-Sunset region with 500 in Hattah Kulkyne, <50 in Wyperfeld and 100 in Ngarkat (Brown et al
. 2009), with the last 2 sites at least unlikely to be viable. The extent of the species's range in Ngarkat, appears to have declined by 95% (c. 90% of the range in South Australia) from about 2000 km2
in the early to mid-1990s, and numbers have gone from perhaps 'thousands' to no more than 100 individuals (D. Paton per Mustoe 2006, D. Paton in litt
. 2006). Similar patterns of decline have been reported in Victora (D. Paton per Mustoe 2006), of 868 playback survey sites covering the Murray Mallee Reserve System the species was only recorded at 15 sites in the Murray-Sunset National Park and one in the Big Desert (Clarke 2006). Its status in South Australia is now considered critical (Mustoe 2006). The total area of suitable habitat was estimated to be less than 2,000 km2
by Garnett and Crowley (2000), but conservative estimates have put this at less than 4,000 km2
more recently (Mustoe 2006) . The species is expected to continue to decline over the next 10 years, as pressures from fire and drought have not altered (Mustoe 2006).Population justification
It appears to have declined heavily in recent years; wildfires have wiped out remnant subpopulations. The population has been
estimated at c.15,307 (7,672-35,584) mature individuals (taking into account a male-skewed sex ratio), 14,300 of which are in the Murray-Sunset region (perhaps the last viable
subpopulation) (Brown et al
. 2009).Trend justification
This species is suspected to be declining very rapidly, on the basis of continued habitat
degradation owing to fire (Garnett and Crowley 2000).Ecology
It occupies habitats containing hummock grassland Triodia
, usually within low woodland dominated by mallee eucalypts Eucalyptus
and cypress pine Callitris
. It also occurs in heath containing banksias Banksia
or casuarinas Allocasuarina
. In Ngarkat, it can disperse at least 6 km into vegetation recovering from fire, 3-4 years after it has been burnt. Highest densities occur 8-10 years after fire, although it persists in vegetation 50 years old. Much apparently suitable habitat is unoccupied. Throughout its range it appears to be confined to relatively small discontinuous fragments of habitat (Mustoe 2006)
. Anecdotal evidence suggests that habitat suitability may be influenced by rainfall through its affect on the health of Triodia
, and in turn on the abundance of insect prey. Annual rainfall increases as a gradient heading east, and may explain why eastern areas of its range seem to be a stronghold (Mustoe 2006)
. Occasional increases in adult mortality may be offset by a meta-population structure which is bolstered by cooperative breeding (S. Mustoe in litt.
Past clearance for agriculture and livestock grazing has fragmented habitat, and the greatest current threat is large-scale wildfires within remnants, such as occurred in Billiatt Conservation Park. Recent declines in South Australia coincided with droughts and a sequence of extensive fires (D. Paton in litt.
. This population may not be able to persist or reclaim its former distribution because it is surrounded by large areas of recently burnt heath (D. Paton in litt.
. Following fires, mallee-heath requires 5-10 years of regeneration before it is suitable for the species (D. Paton per
Mustoe 2006, D. Paton in litt.
. Relatively small changes in habitat quality could cause sudden local declines, and the loss of, or changes to peripheral habitat may affect core habitat (S. Mustoe in litt.
. Mallee-heath is used in the east of the species's range, and may mean that the strongholds of the species are at most risk from loss to single fire events (Mustoe 2006)
. The species's habitat is now so fragmented that any single fire event could be catastrophic (Mustoe 2006)
. The use of strategic fire-breaks has been unsuccessful in protecting subpopulations of this species (D. Paton in litt.
. Drought also puts pressure on the species, especially in the west of its range, where populations may be thinly distributed as a result (Mustoe 2006)
, and a long term drought could result in a crash in local populations (S. Mustoe in litt.
. Habitat fragmentation has taken place within the area of Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and adjacent Crown land; the area is bisected by the Calder Highway and a railway line, and a swathe of habitat has been removed beneath power lines. Other developments threatening further fragmentation include plans submitted for an industrial toxic waste facility at Nowingi in an area of densely occupied habitat (D. Paton in litt.
, in a location which is key to the species's long-term survival (S. Mustoe in litt.
, and the Mildura fire plan has proposed to burn a 250 m wide strip down the west side of the Calder Highway. If suitable habitat does not become available to replace current habitat that deteriorates through old age, as compounded by drought and fires, then numbers of this species have the potential to decline sharply within decades (S. Brown in litt.
. Conservation Actions Underway
An extensive reserve system incorporates most of its remaining range, including Hattah-Kulkyne and Wyperfeld National Parks, Murray-Sunset National Park, the Big Desert Wilderness in Victoria and Ngarkat Conservation Park in South Australia. Studies into this species's population and ecology have been ongoing and a student started a PhD project on this species in 2006 (S. Mustoe in litt.
. Conservation Actions Proposed
Determine the current range. Establish monitoring of known populations. Establish a fire management programme that will ensure the conservation of the species within its existing range. Re-establish the species in areas from which it has been eliminated by fire.
Related state of the world's birds case studies
Brown, S. Clarke, M. F. and Clarke, R. 2009. Fire is a key element in the landscape-scale habitat requirements and global population population status of a threatened bird: the Mallee Emu-wren (Stipiturus mallee). Biological Conservation 142: 432â€“445.
Clarke, R. 2006. Surveys for Mallee Emu-wrens within the Murray Mallee Reserve System, Victoria.
Clarke, R. and Brown, S. 2007. The Mallee Emu-wren in Victoria: recent surveys and an assessment of habitat preferences and population densities. A report to the Mallee Catchment Authority. Deakin University, Burwood.
Garnett, S. T.; Crowley, G. M. 2000. The action plan for Australian birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra.
Garnett, S.T., Szabo, J.K. and Dutson, G. 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.
Mustoe, S. 2006. Assessment of the conservation status of Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee A.I. Campbell, 1908 Family Maluridae.
Watson, S. 2011. Research survey of Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee at Murray Sunset National Park and Annuelllo Flora and Fauna Reserve. Report for the mallee Catchment Management Authority. Deakin University, Burwood.
Further web sources of information
Australian Govt - Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 - Recovery Outline
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Butchart, S., Garnett, S., Mahood, S., McClellan, R., Taylor, J., Allinson, T, Symes, A.
Brown, S., Dutson, G., Ford, H., Garnett, S., Menkhorst, P., Mustoe, S., Paton, D., Saunders, D.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Stipiturus mallee. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 09/02/2016.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 09/02/2016.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
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