SYDNEY, July 11 (Xinhua) — Researchers from Australia’s La Trobe University have discovered a major breeding event of plains peregrine falcons, an important sign that the native bird’s population is slowly coming back from the brink of extinction.

The finding, published in a government report published on Sunday, followed a study of plains waders in Australia’s northern state of Victoria, which showed the number of birds in the area had more than doubled from fewer than 50 to more than 100 since 2018.

“Another encouraging sign was that 85 percent of monitoring sites supported Plains-wanderers, the highest percentage of sites since surveys began 12 years ago,” said team member and La Trobe University PhD candidate Dan Nugent.

The plains wader is endemic to eastern Australia and descends from an ancient bird genus that is 100 million years old. The conservation status of this bird is so terrible that the Zoological Society of London has recognized it as one of the world’s bird species most in need of protection.

The monitoring project was carried out in partnership with the North Central Watershed Management Authority (CMA), the local government body that oversees waterways in regional Victoria.

Plains wanderers are a “very cryptic” species because they are almost never seen during the day and are well camouflaged against grasslands – great protection from predators, but a big problem for conservation.

To overcome this, the team used thermal imaging cameras to spot the small birds, which often hide in thick grass.

North Central CMA project manager Laura Chant said the population boom was likely the result of both human and nonhuman intervention.

“The La Niña climate cycle facilitated extensive and prolonged breeding, which likely increased their numbers,” Chant said.

She added that ongoing conservation work, including habitat management and the creation of reserves, likely played a key role in the recovery.

Nugent said that while the findings were welcome news, the fact that Australian grasslands, the plains wanderer’s primary habitat, had shrunk to just 4 percent of its pre-European habitat meant the species remained under constant threat.

“In Victoria, habitat loss caused by the conversion of native grasslands to cropland is a serious threat,” Nugent said. “With so little habitat left, the population will continue to be vulnerable.”

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