Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey

Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey

Figure 1. Ten aerial survey bands (each 30 km in width), every two degrees of latitude, crossing eastern Australia to monitor up to 2000 wetlands and provide estimates for up to 50 species of waterbirds in October each year (1983-2009).

Aerial survey of waterbirds provides one the few quantitative, large scale biodiversity datasets that can monitor changes in the distribution and abundance of 50 waterbird species, including threatened species, and the health of rivers and wetlands. The survey is a powerful tool to observe changes in Ramsar wetland condition as well as other global and international conservation agreements. The survey can also detect potential long term changes through implementation of the Basin Plan.

Reports for previous surveys are provided at the base of this page. 

The Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey is one of the largest wildlife surveys in Australia, surveying major wetland sites in the Murray-Darling Basin, providing invaluable information on the ecosystem health of wetlands and rivers. 2013 will mark the 31st year the survey has run. The long term (31 years) of data provides the essential baseline information with which to assess changes and impacts on the environment, particularly wetlands and rivers. It is also providing some of the only long-term objective data on waterbird populations in Australia. This has proved particularly relevant in understanding the dynamics of environmental water needs for biodiversity purposes especially as they relate to waterbirds and wetlands. Changes in waterbird numbers provides a tangible way of indicating and measuring changes in the ecological health of river and wetland systems.

The surveys began in 1983, when the eastern states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia), the Commonwealth government and the CSIRO began an ambitious program to monitor waterbirds across one third of the continent, from the east coast to the Northern Territory border and from Prosperpine to south of Melbourne. From 1987- 2004 the survey project was run by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. Since 2005 the project has been run by The University of New South Wales, based on its recognised long term expertise in this field. The 2013 survey will add to a successful survey program of all major sites in 2012 and will also utilise long-term data from the survey. 

Detailed data and expert analysis produced from the aerial survey project have provided the impetus for major improvements to onground management of waterbirds, rivers and wetlands. The ongoing and up to date information provided as a result of the surveys has been vital in identification of the national importance of inland wetlands, protection of the Paroo River and Cooper Creek and major changes or contributions to water management policies for the Macquarie Marshes, Menindee Lakes, Lowbidgee floodplain wetlands.

Many of the Commonwealth’s responsibilities in relation to migratory waterbirds and management of wetlands under the EPBC Act are informed by the information collected during the aerial survey. The survey information has provided a substantive base for discussions held under Australia’s bilateral agreements on migratory waterbirds with Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

In October of each year, waterbirds in eastern Australia are counted from the air on up to 2000 wetlands (100 hours flying). Abundance indices for all waterbird species are collected during aerial surveys of eastern Australia each year on every wetland surveyed. An area of 2,697,000 km2 is systematically sampled with ten survey bands 30 km in width, spaced every 2° of latitude from 38°30’S to 20°30’S (Kingsford et al. 1999a, see Braithwaite et al. 1985 for methodology; Fig. 1). More than 50 taxa of waterbirds are counted on all water bodies larger than 1 ha. All lakes are surveyed during October each year from a high-winged aircraft (Cessna 206) with two observers, one each side of the plane, estimating numbers of waterbirds of each species onto digital audio recorders. The aircraft is flown at a height of 30 – 46 m and a speed of 167 km hr-1 (90 knots), within 150 m of the shoreline, where waterbirds usually congregate (Kingsford and Porter 1994). Most waterbirds are identified to species, although species in four groups could not be separated: small egrets (3 species), small grebes (2 species), small (>20 species) and large (>5 species) migratory waders (Kingsford and Porter 1994; Kingsford et al. 1994). Either the whole wetland is circumnavigated or a proportion of the wetland (> 50 %) counted. Counts for each species are totalled for each observer to give either a total count for a wetland or a proportional count for the wetland.

This survey is managed by the University of NSW in association with the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, with funding provided by the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage, the Queensland Environment Protection Agency and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Eastern Australian Aerial Survey Reports:

Braithwaite, L.W., Maher, M.T., Briggs, S.V. and Parker, B.S. (1985a). An aerial survey of wetland bird fauna in eastern Australia. October 1983. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Rangelands Research Technical Memorandum No. 21. [2.34 Mb]

Braithwaite, L.W., Maher, M.T., Briggs, S.V. and Parker, B.S. (1985b). An aerial survey of wetland bird fauna in eastern Australia. October 1984. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Rangelands Research Technical Memorandum No. 23. [2.90 Mb]

Braithwaite, L.W., Maher, M.T., Holmes, J. and Parker, B.S. (1986). An aerial survey of wetland bird fauna in eastern Australia. October 1985. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Rangelands Research Technical Memorandum No. 24. [4.30 Mb]

Braithwaite, L.W., Kingsford, R.T., Holmes, J. and Parker, B.S. (1987). An aerial survey of wetland bird fauna in eastern Australia. October 1986. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Rangelands Research Technical Memorandum No. 27. [5.56 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Braithwaite, L.W., Dexter, N. and Lawler, W. (1988). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia-October 1987. CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Rangelands Research Technical Memorandum No. 30. [1.20 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Smith, J.D.B. and Lawler, W. (1989). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1988. NSW, NPWS Occasional Paper No. 8. [1.54 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Porter, J.L., Smith, J.D.B. and Lawler, W. (1990). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1989. NSW. NPWS Occasional Paper No. 9. [1.30 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Porter, J.L., Smith, J.D.B. and Holland, P. (1991). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1990. NSW, NPWS Occasional Paper No.10. [1.36 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Porter, J.L. and Ferster Levy, R. (1992). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1991. NSW. NPWS Occasional Paper No.12. [1.32 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Porter, J.L. and Ferster Levy, R. (1993). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1992. NSW. NPWS Occasional Paper No.16. [1.18 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Ferster Levy, R. and Porter, J.L. (1994). An aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1993. NSW. NPWS Occasional Paper No.18. [1.25 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Tully, S. and Davis S.T. (1997). Aerial Surveys of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia – October 1994 and 1995. NSW. NPWS Occasional Paper No. 28. [1.04 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Porter, J.L., Ahern, A., Davis, S.T. (2000). Aerial surveys of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 1995-1999. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 31. [1.80 Mb]

Kingsford, R.T., Porter, J.L. and Ahern, A.D. (2003). Aerial surveys of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 2000-2002. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 33. [2.65 Mb]

Porter, J.L., Kingsford, R.T., Hunter, S. (2006). Aerial surveys of wetland birds in eastern Australia – October 2003-2005. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Occasional Paper no.37. [2.43 Mb]

 

Research Program: 
Waterbirds
Research Themes: 
Rivers and Wetlands

Publications for this project

Author Date Title Description PDF
Kingsford et al. 2017 Continental impacts of water development on waterbirds, contrasting two Australian river basins: Global implications for sustainable water use

Abstract 

The world’s freshwater biotas are declining in diversity, range and abundance, morethan in other realms, with human appropriation of water. Despite considerable dataon the distribution of dams and their hydrological effects on river systems, there arefew expansive and long analyses of impacts on freshwater biota. We investigatedtrends in waterbird communities over 32 years, (1983–2014), at three spatial scales intwo similarly sized large river basins, with contrasting levels of water resource devel-opment, representing almost a third (29%) of Australia: the Murray–Darling Basin andthe Lake Eyre Basin. The Murray–Darling Basin is Australia’s most developed riverbasin (240 dams storing 29,893 GL) while the Lake Eyre Basin is one of the less devel-oped basins (1 dam storing 14 GL). We compared the long-term responses of water-bird communities in the two river basins at river basin, catchment and major wetlandscales. Waterbird abundances were strongly related to river flows and rainfall. For thedeveloped Murray–Darling Basin, we identified significant long-term declines in totalabundances, functional response groups (e.g., piscivores) and individual species ofwaterbird (n = 50), associated with reductions in cumulative annual flow. These trendsindicated ecosystem level changes. Contrastingly, we found no evidence of waterbirddeclines in the undeveloped Lake Eyre Basin. We also modelled the effects of the Aus-tralian Government buying up water rights and returning these to the riverine environ-ment, at a substantial cost (>3.1 AUD billion) which were projected to partly (18%improvement) restore waterbird abundances, but projected climate change effectscould reduce these benefits considerably to only a 1% or 4% improvement, withrespective annual recovery of environmental flows of 2,800 GL or 3,200 GL. Ourunique large temporal and spatial scale analyses demonstrated severe long-term eco-logical impact of water resource development on prominent freshwater animals, withimplications for global management of water resources.

PDF icon Kingsford_et_al-2017-Global_Change_Biology.pdf
Porter and Kingsford 2014 Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia - October 2014 Annual Summary Report PDF icon Eastern Australia_waterbird aerial survey_2014_final_11_02_15.pdf
Porter and Kingsford 2013 Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia - October 2013 Annual Summary Report PDF icon Eastern Australia_waterbird aerial survey_2013_final.pdf
Porter and Kingsford 2012 Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia - October 2012 Annual Summary Report PDF icon Eastern Australia_waterbird aerial survey_2012_Final.pdf
Kingsford and Porter 2012 Waterbird monitoring in Australia: value, challenges and lessons learnt after more than 25 years

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Porter et al. 2011 Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia - October 2011 Annual Summary Report PDF icon 2011-Eastern-Australia-Waterbird-Survey-Summary-Report.pdf
Kingsford et al. 2013 Waterbird communities in the Murray-Darling Basin, 1983-2012 PDF icon Waterbird communities_Murray-Darling Basin_final_July_2013.pdf

News for this project

04/06/2017

Long-term study in Australian wetlands

Long-term study of Murray-Darling Basin and Lake Eyre Basin wetlands

07/11/2016

Floods boost bird populations across Murray Darling, Eyre Basin river systems

As the 2016 Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey comes to an end, Professor Richard K

04/12/2014

Richard Kingsford discusses the findings of the 32nd annual aerial survey on Late Night Live

Richard Kingsford discusses the findings of the 32nd annual aerial survey on Late Night Liv

14/03/2014

Dr Duck features on ABC TV's Hello Birdy

Tune in Saturday 15th March at 6.30pm for a spot of waterbird counting with Dr Duck

10/06/2012

Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey 2011 Annual report

2011 annual summary report on the aerial survey of wetland birds in eastern Australia

10/04/2008

Shorebird numbers crash: survey alarm

An alarming new study has revealed that Australia's migratory and resident shorebirds have suffered a massive collapse in numbers over the past 25 years.

Updates for this project

Aerial Survey, 10th November 2016

10/11/16 Observer-Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 16th November 2016

16/11/2016 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 15th November 2016

15/11/2016 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 14th November 2016

The next few days will be the last of the survey for the year. I will be glad to be out of the plane, even though it has been a great privilege to see the rivers. It’s tiring work.

Aerial Survey, 9th November 2016

9/11/16 Observer-Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 7th November 2016

7/11/16 Observer– Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 4th November 2016

4/11/16 Observer- Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 3rd November 2016

3/11/16 Observer-Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 2nd November 2016

2/11/16 Observer– Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 1st November 2016

1/11/16 Observer– Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 26th October 2016

26/10/2016 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 25th October 2016

25/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 24th October 2016

24/10/16 – Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey 22nd October 2016

22/10/2016 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey 21st October 2016

21/10/2016 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 20th October 2016

Thursday 20/10/16 Observer - Terry Korn

Cloud shrouded mountains were caressed by our Cessna 206 as we crossed the Blue mountains on a path which would ultimately have us in Broken Hill at the end of the day.

Aerial Survey, 14th October 2016

Friday 14/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 13th October 2016

Thursday 13/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 12th October 2016

Wednesday 12/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 11th October 2016

Tuesday 11/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 10th October 2016

Monday 10/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 9th October 2016

Sunday 9/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 7th October 2016

Friday 7/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 6th October 2016

Thursday 6/10/2016 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 5th October 2016

Wednesday 5/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 4th October 2016

Tuesday 4/10/16 Observer - Richard Kingsford

2016 Waterbird Survey

The aerial survey team are currently conducting 34th annual waterbird survey of eastern Australia surveying all major wetland sites in the Murray-Darling Basin and other sites in the Riverina for waterbirds.

Aerial Survey, 17th November 2015

Tuesday 17/11/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 18th November 2015

18 November 2015 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 16th November 2015

16 November 2015 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 10th November 2015

10/11/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 9th November 2015

Blog 9/11/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 7th November 2015

7/11/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 6th November 2015

6/11/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 5th November 2015

5/11/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 4th November 2015

4/11/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 29th October 2015

29/10/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 28th October 2015

28/10/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 27th October 2015

27/10/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 22nd October 2015

22/10/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 21st October 2015

21/10/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 20th October 2015

20/10/15 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 16th October 2015

16/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 15th October 2015

15/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 14th October 2015

14/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 13th October 2015

13/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 11th October 2015

11/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 12th October 2015

12/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 9th October 2015

9/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 8th October 2015

Thursday 8/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

Aerial Survey, 7th October 2015

Wednesday 7/10/15 Observer - Terry Korn

2015 Waterbird survey

The aerial survey team have just completed the 33rd annual waterbird survey of eastern Australia which surveyed all major wetland sites in the Murray-Darling Basin and other sites in the Riverina for waterbirds.

Aerial Survey, 6th October 2015

Tuesday 6/10/15 

2014 Waterbird survey is complete

The aerial survey team has just finished the 32nd annual waterbird survey. Find out more in Richard Kingsford's survey blog.

Aerial Survey, 7th October 2014

Tuesday 7/10/14 Observer - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 17th October 2014

Friday 17/10/14 – Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 16th October 2014

Thursday 16/10/14 – Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 15th October 2014

Wednesday 15/10/14 – Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 14th October 2014

Tuesday 14/10/14 – Richard Kingsford

Cool morning at 22oC – great for aerial survey. Quilpie, where we stayed last night, lies on the banks of the Bulloo, a sometimes forgotten river of the inland.

Aerial Survey, 13th October 2014

Monday 13/10/14 - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 12th October 2014

Sunday 12/10/14 - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 10th October 2014

Friday 10/10/14 - Richard Kingsford

 

Aerial Survey, 9th October 2014

Thursday 9/10/14 - Richard Kingsford

Aerial Survey, 8th October 2014

Wednesday 8/10/14 - Richard Kingsford

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