Colonial Waterbirds

Colonial Waterbirds

Colonial waterbirds are particularly dependent on river flows for the critical breeding stage of their lifecycle. They breed in response to large flows on relatively few wetlands in Australia. Most species of colonial waterbirds require sufficient river flows, flooding and availability of suitable nesting habitat.

Outside breeding periods, Australian colonial waterbirds are nomadic rather than migratory (Brooker 1992), with movements often triggered by unpredictable rainfall events, rather than seasonal changes (Carrick 1962; Dodman and Diagana 2007). They use a range of wetland types including inland and coastal wetlands at different times of their life cycle (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Many species opportunistically breed on inland wetlands, taking advantage of suitable habitat after sufficient flooding. The size of the breeding response and its subsequent success is directly related to hydrological conditions (Kingsford and Johnson 1998; Leslie 2001; Taft et al. 2002). Breeding events are often threshold driven, triggered once flow of a certain volume occurs resulting in extensive flooding. Once breeding, the flow regime also dictates the degree of reproductive success by extending the duration of the flood. Wetland flooding produces significant bursts in productivity in food webs with abundant macroinvertebrate emergence, fish recruitment and plant growth, all providing key resources to support waterbird breeding (Jenkins and Boulton 1998; Kingsford et al. 1999; Puckridge et al. 2000, Bunn et al. 2006).

For further information contact: Dr Kate Brandis,


Juvenile Nankeen night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) K. Brandis

Royal spoonbill (Platalea regia) K. Brandis

Straw-necked ibis chicks (Threskiornis spinicollis) K. Brandis


Research Program: 
Research Themes: 
Rivers and Wetlands

News for this project


The tragedy of the Murray-Darling river system is man-made

UNSW Professor and CES Director, Richard Kingsford, has recently published an opinion piece delving in to the environmental impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Updates for this project

Upper Merrimajeel Straw-necked Ibis Colony

4-5/10/2016: Corey Callaghan, Diane Harshbarger, and John Porter

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