Grey-crowned Babbler - a local extinction in SEQ

To: "'Birding-Aus'" <>
Subject: Grey-crowned Babbler - a local extinction in SEQ
From: "Atzeni, Michael" <>
Date: Tue, 19 Jan 1999 13:38:38 +1000
An informative account of the unfortunate decline of a friend's local
Grey-crowned Babbler population follows.

About a year ago, Carol expressed her concerns to me, and it now appears her
worst fears have been realised.  She has kindly provided this account for
the record, and hopes someone can shed some light on the subject.

GC Babblers are common in SE Qld and are not considered threatened here.
But, while I've seen them many times, in hindsight, I cannot recall seeing
an active nest, or fledglings.  I've started looking out for the eye colour
(yellow in younger birds, becoming browner with age ) but this is often
difficult to pick up in the field.  I can only confidently say I've seen two
yellow-eyed birds to date.

Are there any hard data supporting their status around here?  Has anyone
witnessed a similar population decline, exacerbated by lack of successful
breeding, as described by Carol? 

Looking forward to your feedback.  Thanks in advance.

Michael Atzeni

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stephens, Carol 
> Sent: Sunday, 17 January 1999 15:26
> To:   Atzeni, Michael
> Subject:      Babblers
> Importance:   High
> Michael,
> This is a history of the babblers at Lowanna. Please feel free to edit as
> you see fit. It might be too long for what you want - my botanical
> interests are evident. But I think it is interesting that the babblers
> only ever roosted in two trees, of the 100's they had to choose from and
> that those two trees were exotics.
> I moved to Lowanna in 1980. It had been a one-room school, established in
> 1899 on 11 acres and finally closed as a school in 1965. It is situated in
> a steep valley south-east of Toowoomba, fronting Stockyard Creek. The hill
> behind it has never been cleared, the scrub dominated by Narrow-leafed
> Ironbark, with some Queensland Blue Gums, Moreton Bay Ash and Angophora
> spp. The middle storey is largely Fringed Wattle and these days, lantana.
> About 5 acres around the school-building were cleared to accommodate a
> pony paddock, tennis court and playground. About 6 large trees, mostly
> Queensland Blue Gums, were left in the cleared area and a number of
> exotics, including Leopardwoods, Jacarandas, Albizzia sp. and Cape
> Chestnut were planted on Arbor Days. Some of these trees are known to be
> 90 years of age.
> When I moved to Lowanna there was a large group of Grey-crowned Babblers
> present, apparently in permanent residence. I estimate that were 22 to 25
> birds in all. In an area known for its prolific bird life, the babblers
> were the most obvious species, always active on the grass around the
> "school" or to be heard in the margins of the scrub. Local farmers, all of
> whom had been to school there and several of whom are now in their late
> sixties, told me that there had "always" been babblers (or Happy Families,
> as they call them) at the school, although nowhere else in the valley. 
> Periodically the babblers constructed roosts in the larger of the two
> Leopardwood trees and also in the Cape Chestnut tree, each tree
> accommodating up to three roosts at a time. Over almost two decades, I
> have never seen roosts in any other tree. These two trees are close to the
> house, the Leopardwood being only 4 metres away. Over almost two decades
> also I have never seen the slightest sign that the babblers were breeding,
> nor have I ever seen young birds. The babblers followed a daily routine
> that over the years hardly varied. They would emerge from whichever of the
> roosts they happened to be using in the morning and gather at the
> southwestern corner of the cleared area, at the top of the creek bank.
> Here they would feed and chatter for an hour or so, gradually moving
> around the margins of the scrub as the day progressed. About an hour
> before sunset they would gather on the entrance road, at the southeastern
> corner of the clearing, for a communal dustbath. As dusk approached they
> would fly back to the roosts and gradually settle for the night.
> My mowing the grass was always the prelude to a great deal of roost
> refurbishment, as was a windy day, no doubt providing numerous twigs
> suitable for roost-building. However I have never seen a babbler carrying
> food. 
> The total number of babblers on the property has declined steadily,
> particularly in recent years. When I returned in 1985 from two years
> overseas, the number had dropped to about 18. Some 5 years later, it was
> down to about 12. The following year there were 10. By early 1998 the
> number had further declined to 7. By mid 1998, this had dropped to 5. One
> week before Christmas 1998, there were none at all. And there have been
> none since.
> Carol Stephens
> Microbiologist
> Toowoomba Veterinary Laboratory
> 203 Tor Street (PO Box 102)
> Phone 07 4688 1355
> Fax 07 4688 1195

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