Building bird-friendly habitat in the land of the lyrebird - National Tree Day Blog

Building bird-friendly habitat in the land of the lyrebird

Gippsland’s Strzelecki Ranges, also known as “the land of the lyrebird”, run across 100 kilometres of southeast Victoria on Gunaikurnai and Bunurong country. There is a stark difference between the eastern and western ranges, with the rolling green hills of the west dotted with farms that form a productive agricultural area. While, on the wild eastern peaks, deep valleys are covered with ferny forests dominated by the mighty mountain ash.

Mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the world’s tallest flowering plant, with the largest trees reaching towering heights of over 90 metres. The flowers on these hardwood giants are an important food source for pollinators including butterflies, bees and the thousands of birds that reside in the ranges. 

Though the area is named after Australia’s iconic feathered copycat, the lyrebird, the Strzelecki Ranges and surrounding Gippsland Plains are home to a whopping 345 bird species. The diverse landscape supports birdlife ranging from shorebirds such as pelicans, crested terns and hooded plovers that rely on the coastal and wetland areas, to powerful owls, fairy wrens and lyrebirds found in the woodlands and forests. 

It’s an ornithophiles paradise, and the site of an exciting bird conservation project Planet Ark is proudly supporting through The Seedling Bank. In 2022, The Birdlife Australia team received funding for a National Tree Day planting that will restore forests in the eastern Strzelecki Ranges and expand local bird habitat.  

The largest bird conservation group in the country, Birdlife Australia, is dedicated to providing a bright future for Australia’s native birds through science-backed conservation programs and advocacy.  

Australia’s endemic birds have faced huge declines since European colonisation, with human activities such as forestry, agriculture, urbanisation and mining driving extinctions and diminishing populations. A 2022 study mapping bird habitat found native birds have significantly declined across 69 per cent of Australia since European occupation. Furthermore, ten species have become locally extinct across 99 per cent of their historic range.    

A threat facing birds all over Australia is habitat loss, and the Strzelecki Ranges is no exception. The area has changed drastically in the last 200 years, primarily due to pressures from residential and industrial development. Now one of the most populated regions of Victoria, Gippsland has seen much of its forested areas cleared to make way for housing.  

The agriculture industry has driven land-clearing in the western ranges, where alluvial soils are considered ideal for productive dairy, beef, sheep and potato farming. The more heavily forested eastern side has not escaped development either, with many areas suffering from fragmentation and degradation.  

To counteract the damage done to native flora and fauna by land-clearing, conservationists are working hard to revegetate the land and preserve remnant old growth forest. The team at Birdlife Australia is at the forefront of this effort to safeguard the future of birds and other wildlife that lives in these magical misty forests that pervade the land of the lyrebird.  

Birdlife teamed up with local community organisations and members of the public to plant 150 trees, shrubs and grasses to create the Wulgunggo Ngalu Bird Friendly Habitat Space. Located on the former Won Wron prison grounds in the eastern Strzelecki Ranges, the area is also a designated cultural learning place for Aboriginal men undertaking Community Corrections Orders. Nature care is taught on site and a dedicated bird habitat zone was established here in 2019.  

The Birdlife planting focused on expanding this important habitat area and creating a safe corridor between the habitat space and nearby remnant lowland forest. Many hours of back-breaking work have already gone into preparing the site, with dense crops of noxious weeds being removed over the past three years. 

“Our new space will include lots of locally indigenous plants to create a multi-layered habitat, including ground cover plants and grasses, small/medium shrubs for density and some trees to provide year-round food and shelter to benefit the many different bird species and insects that call Wulgunggo Ngalu home. A new bird bath will also be installed providing permanent water,” Sam Monks, Woodland Birds Project Officer at Birdlife Australia, says. 

The collaborative efforts of Birdlife Australia and other environmental and community groups have seen the bird habitat site flourish since the first seedling was planted in 2019.  

“Over the past three years, the garden has thrived and now attracts lots of small birds and insects,” Sam explains. 

“In partnership with Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation, we are extending plantings in adjoining areas to increase the overall size of the Wulgunggo Ngalu Bird Friendly Habitat Space.” 

The seedlings planted as part of this project will grow to provide space for nesting, feeding and perching, ensuring the survival of our feathered friends of the Strzelecki ranges for years to come.   

Sarah Chaplin

Sarah joined the Planet Ark team in early 2019 to work in the Information Centre and on the National Tree Day Seedling Bank special project. She is passionate about environmental science and has an academic background in biology and conservation science. Since graduating, she has worked with small not-for-profit environmental organisations and is delighted to be able to put her range of skills and experience to use at Planet Ark.