Pale-vented bush-hen, Amaurornis moluccana, Ian Montgomery.
Lewin’s rail, Lewinia pectoralis, Chris Tzaros, Birds Australia.
This Conservation Action Statement addresses the following crake and rail species, collectively referred to as crakes and rails, which are identified as significant species within Brisbane as per Council’s Natural Assets Planning Scheme Policy (Brisbane City Council 2000):
Australian spotted crake (Porzana fluminea)1
Spotless crake (Porzana tabuensis).
Baillon’s crake (Porzana pusilla).
Buff-banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis).
Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana) (referred to as ‘bush-hen Gallinula olivacea’ within Council’s Natural Assets Planning Scheme Policy).
Lewin’s rail (Lewinia pectoralis) (referred to as ‘Dryolimnas pectoralis’ within Council’s Natural Assets Planning Scheme Policy).
This Conservation Action Statement will be updated as new information becomes available and to report progress on conservation actions. For more information about this or any other Conservation Action Statement, visit Council’s website at http://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au or phone Council on (07) 3403 8888.
This Conservation Action Statement details Council’s management intent for the long-term protection and conservation of significant crakes and rails within Brisbane through the following actions:
Collating existing information on the distribution, ecology and management requirements of these species within Brisbane and surrounds.
Identifying key threats that significantly impact upon these species within Brisbane.
Identifying gaps in existing knowledge of the habitat and management requirements of these species and research priorities.
Detailing practical and affordable strategies and actions that support the long-term protection and conservation of these species within Brisbane.
2 Conservation Status
The conservation status of a species will influence how it is managed. ‘Threatened’ species are typically accorded a more stringent management regime than ‘common’ species. Various conservation registers identify the status of fauna species at local, state and national levels. The current status of the crakes and rails is provided in Table 1.
Table 1: Official Conservation Status of Brisbane’s Crakes and Rails
South East Queensland3
Australian spotted crake
‘Significant’ in Council’s Natural Assets Planning Scheme Policy denotes that the species listed is at risk of extinction within Brisbane City if future land use and management do not adequately accommodate their ecological needs.
Australian spotted crake
A wetland bird endemic to Australia, found mainly in the south-east and south-west of mainland Australia and on Tasmania, with sparse records elsewhere.
Considered rare in Queensland and is sparsely distributed from Booby Island, Torres Strait along the east coast to Brisbane.
There are few records for this species in Queensland, with no breeding records for the whole of Queensland over a four year survey period (Barrett et al. 2003).
May be more common than the records indicate because of the bird’s cryptic habits.
A wetland bird mainly found in the south-east and south-west of mainland Australia and north-eastern Tasmania.
Sparsely distributed in Queensland, with very few sightings recorded.
May have been overlooked because of its cryptic nature.
No breeding records for the whole of Queensland over a four year survey period (Barrett et al. 2003).
Mainly found in eastern, south-eastern and south-western Australia.
Sparsely distributed throughout Queensland, with most records from central-east and south-east areas of the state.
No breeding records throughout Queensland during a four year survey period (Barrett et al. 2003).
A wetland species widespread in coastal, subcoastal and riverine regions and on many offshore islands.
Few records from far inland regions.
Distributed from the eastern Gulf of Carpentaria to the islands of Torres Strait and along the eastern Queensland coast, with scattered records throughout the rest of the state.
Over a four year survey period, a reasonable number of breeding records were recorded for coastal Queensland, including a few from the south-east region and Brisbane (Barrett et al. 2003).
Mainly recorded in coastal and subcoastal parts of the ‘top end’ of the Northern Territory and eastern Queensland. Sporadic records from northern Western Australia. In New South Wales it is restricted to the Northern Rivers district.
Recorded in Queensland from Weipa and along the east coast to Rockhampton and from the Blackall Ranges to Brisbane.
This shy, cryptic species is possibly more common than records would indicate.
Virtually all Australian breeding records lodged during a four year survey period were confined to eastern Queensland (Barrett et al. 2003).
Occurs from the Atherton Tablelands south to Proserpine-Mackay.
Australian spotted crake
Rare in Brisbane (BAAM 2005). Only one record from 1937 is listed by Jack (1963), not listed for Brisbane by Venables (1983) and considered very rare by Low (1995).
Most records are from wetlands near the Brisbane River at Lytton, Pullenvale, Sherwood Forest Park and Upper Brookfield.
Observed at Pinjarra Hills (BAAM 2005) and a 1937 record from Sandgate Lagoon.
Although considered as very rare or not present by Low (1995) it is better regarded as rare in Brisbane (Venables 1983; BAAM 2005).
Recorded at Bulimba Creek, Kuraby, Lytton, Sherwood Forest Park and Pinjarra Hills (BAAM 2005).
Uncommon or rare in Brisbane but has a fairly wide distribution (Venables 1983; Low 1995). Influxes can occur in summer (Jack 1963).
Recorded at Bald Hills Creek, Brisbane Forest Park, Bulimba Creek, Doboy Swamp, Fisherman Islands, Lytton, Minnippi Parklands, Moggill Creek, Mt Coot-tha Botanical Gardens, Oxley, Pine River, Rocklea Swamp, Sandgate Lagoons, Schulz Canal and Sherwood Forest Park (BAAM 2005)
Probably common and is very widespread in Brisbane (Venables 1983; Low 1995).
Has been recorded throughout most areas of Brisbane wherever suitable habitat exists (BAAM 2005)
Widespread throughout Brisbane and probably uncommon (Venables 1983; Low 1995), though moderately common along the Brisbane River and on most densely-vegetated streams (Beruldsen 2003). Less common in winter (Czechura 2007).
Records for this species throughout most areas of Brisbane where suitable habitat exists (BAAM 2005).
Considered rare in Brisbane (Jack 1963; Venables 1983; Low 1995).
Sightings recorded at Bulimba Creek, Bulwer Swamp, Downfall Creek Bushland Centre, Fig Tree Pocket, Indooroopilly Golf Course, Kenmore, Lytton, Metroplex Lake, Minnippi Parklands, Moggill Creek, Mt Nebo Road, Pinjarra Hills, Oxley and Pullenvale (BAAM 2005)
Verified crake and rail records for Brisbane are shown on Map 1.
Australian spotted crake
Occurs in well-vegetated, permanent-to-ephemeral, fresh-to-saline wetlands.
Also found in tidal wetlands and in mangroves.
Can be found in all natural wetlands and sometimes around artificial wetlands and sewerage ponds.
Usually occurs and roosts in dense vegetation such as reeds and rushes, mangroves, rank grass or dense thickets of melaleuca.
Occasionally occurs in grassy areas such as lawns, pasture and golf courses and may occur some distance from water.
Occurs in permanent-to-ephemeral, freshwater-to-brackish wetlands (including littoral areas), with stands of tall emergent reeds, rushes, sedges and grasses (including introduced species).
Prefers wetlands with flowing water, but avoids deeper, swifter sections.
Has also been recorded in agricultural and suburban areas.
Usually feeds alone in vegetated margins of wetlands among or next to tall grass, reeds or rushes.
Diet consists mainly of live crustaceans, molluscs, worms and insects, but sometimes includes seeds, seedlings and fruit.
Mainly crepuscular but often active during the day.
Feeds alone or in pairs, on the ground and sometimes in shallow water in the cover of long grass.
Diet consists of plant material, seeds, insects and occasionally frogs.
Crepuscular, sometimes diurnal.
Solitary feeder, foraging in soft mud at edges of wetlands.
Usually remains close to or in dense vegetation, where they drill or probe for prey on the ground or sometimes in shallow water.
Has occasionally been observed feeding in gardens, on lawns or short pastures.
Diet consists mainly of live crustaceans, molluscs, worms and insects.
Australian spotted crake
Breeds in clumps of dense vegetation in swamps and other inundated wetlands.
Nests are made of dry, soft materials and placed amongst grass, weeds or other plants growing in shallow water and often in large tussocks of grass (Beruldsen 2003).
Breeding occurs from August to January with clutches found in Queensland in early October.
Breeding frequency is once, sometimes twice per year with clutch size of four to five eggs (Beruldsen 2003).
Probably monogamous, however the duration of pair bonds is unknown.
Chicks are precocial (hatch well developed, down-covered and able to move freely) and nidifugous (leave the nest soon after hatching).
In eastern Australia this species breeds in early September to December.
Usually in large, unbroken stands of dense, tall emergents such as reeds, sedges, grass tussocks and stands of dense shrubs.
Nests are constructed one metre or more above water level.
Occasionally been observed breeding in tussocks in paddocks beneath ferns and blackberries.
Has been recorded breeding up to 90 metres from the nearest water.
Breeding frequency is usually once, but sometimes twice per year.
Monogamous in breeding season and possibly pairs for life.
Clutch size is often three to four eggs, but sometimes five or more.
Eggs are incubated by both parents for approximately 22 days.
Chicks are semi-precocial and remain in the nest for one to two days.
Breeds in clumps and tussocks on edges of wetlands or in floating vegetation well out in swamps.
Nests are similar to Australian spotted crake’s, although less frequently placed in large tussocks of grass (Beruldsen 2003).
In northern Australia this species breeds from December to April.
Breeding frequency is once, sometimes twice a year.
Clutch size is between four and seven eggs, usually five or six.
Probably monogamous although duration of bonds is unknown.
Both parents incubate eggs for approximately 18 days and both parents feed the chicks.
Chicks are precocial and nidifugous.
Often breeds around wetlands or in pasture or crops among dense clumps of grass, rushes or shrubs such as melaleuca.
Nests are constructed of grasses and other soft vegetation and are frequently placed in dry situations close to a swamp or wetland (Beruldsen 2003).
Breeding usually occurs only once per year from September to March.
Clutch size is usually five to eight eggs.
Probably monogamous, with both parents incubating the eggs for around 19 days.
Chicks are precocial and nidifugous.
Breeds amongst dense and tall grass or reeds next to creeks, dams or swamps and often near the edge of rainforests, rainforest remnants or in secondary growth.
Nests are usually constructed from grasses and placed either close to the ground amongst dense, tall grass by a swamp or creek above normal flood level, or in dense bush by a creek, up to two metres or more above the ground (Beruldsen 2003).
Breeds only once per year, from December to February (Beruldsen 2003).
The nature of social bonding is unknown, although they are probably monogamous.
Clutch size is usually four to seven eggs.
Both sexes incubate the eggs for around 25 days.
Chicks are semi-precocial and nidifugous.
Breeds in swamps and marshes with low, dense concealing vegetation, such as sedges, rushes or tall grass.
Nests are a saucer-shaped structure composed of dry vegetation such as reeds, rushes and grasses and are placed a few centimetres above water or wet ground in dense reeds or rushes, or in the centre of a large tussock of grass (Beruldsen 2003).
Breeds usually between August and January and may raise two broods per season.
Probably monogamous. The role of parents in building nests, incubation and care of young is not known.
Clutch size is usually four eggs.
Chicks are precocial and nidifugous and may remain in the nest for 24 hours.
Secretive species with unknown movement patterns. Possibly migratory.
Fewer sightings in winter when they are less conspicuous and not calling, which may mean reporting rates are an underestimate of the actual number.
Occurrence and numbers may alter suddenly or seasonally, possibly in response to rainfall or receding water.
Probably migratory, however there is little information.
Generally disappear from the southern part of their range between April and September.
May move erratically from areas after dieback of vegetation, drop in water levels or in drought, or move into areas of high rainfall and flooding.
Movement patterns not well known.
Buff-banded rails are possibly migratory, though present in some areas throughout the year.
Apparently resident in Brisbane, although numbers are reduced towards winter.
Possibly move into areas of high rainfall, leaving areas of drought.
Movement patterns are unknown.
Possibly nomadic, moving into regions with the onset of rains.
May retire to areas of permanent water in the dry season and move out to wetter habitat in wet seasons.
Movement patterns virtually unknown.
Could be partly migratory.
Apparently resident or sedentary in some areas.
Habitat loss, fragmentation and simplification
Since European settlement, an estimated 67,000 hectares, or two-thirds of the original woody vegetation in Brisbane City, has been cleared. This includes approximately 90% of lowland forests and more than 80% of all lowland vegetation (below 100 metres elevation). Habitat fragmentation is extensive – around 80% of the bushland remnants in the city are less than 20 hectares (Brisbane City Council 2001).
Habitat loss, fragmentation and simplification are considered the major threats to these species (BAAM 2005).
A considerable amount of preferred habitat for these species has been lost through the expansion of the Brisbane Airport (BAAM 2005).
Roadways can have deleterious impacts on crakes and rails either directly, through collisions with vehicles, or indirectly by fragmenting their preferred habitat. Pale-vented bush-hens and buff-banded rails are the most vulnerable to being killed by vehicles as they are more active ground runners and wander greater distances from water than the other species.
Planned and unplanned fires destroy dense vegetation that is necessary for crakes and rails to remain in an area.
Reclamation and drainage works are a major threat to these species.
In rehabilitation projects along creeks and around wetlands, the weedy ground cover is typically removed. Sometimes the bare ground is mulched, usually resulting in severe habitat loss for crakes and rails until the groundcover regrows. Often the ground cover does not regrow for many years. After some rehabilitation projects the vegetation is no longer suitable habitat for crakes and rails.
Predation and competition
Crakes and rails roost and nest on the ground, which may make them more vulnerable to predation.
Foxes, cats and dogs prey directly on eggs and chicks.
Expected changes in rainfall patterns, especially increased frequency and duration of droughts will likely see the extent and quality of existing wetland habitat impacted significantly, resulting in possible local extinctions of crakes and rails.
Climate change may reduce the amount of habitat available for crakes and rails due to changes in flora and fauna composition, particularly in regards to increased weed infestations.
Several Council biodiversity initiatives are contributing to the protection and management of crakes and rails and their habitat across the city. The following are key initiatives.
Bushland Acquisition program. Through this program more than 2700 hectares of the city’s most significant lowland habitats have been purchased and protected to date.
Wildlife Conservation Partnerships program. More than 600 private properties have established conservation partnerships with Council, covering some 2000 hectares of principally lowland habitat in significant bird habitat areas.
Conservation Reserve Estate. More than 13,700 hectares of parkland, including 7755 hectares of bushland and wetland reserves are managed and protected. This reserve network provides habitat for Brisbane’s significant species.
Natural Assets Local Law (2003). Over 61,000 hectares of significant native vegetation is covered by the Natural Assets Local Law.
City Plan (2000). The City Plan designates a green space system throughout the city to recognise and protect the contribution of open space areas to ecological functions. The plan’s Biodiversity Code and supporting Ecological Assessment Guidelines provide performance criteria and acceptable solutions to protect significant biodiversity values on, or adjacent to, proposed development. City Plan also includes statutory schedules of flora and fauna species considered significant in Brisbane, recognising species significant at a citywide or regional level.
There have been no scientific studies of crakes and rails undertaken in South East Queensland (BAAM 2005). All of the target species are cryptic and difficult to observe which makesthem unpopular study subjects.
There has been one detailed publication by the naturalist R. Dunlop of the behaviour of buff-banded rail on a small island in Pumicestone Passage near Bribie Island (Dunlop 1970).
8 Management Intent
Council intends to contribute to the long-term conservation of the city’s significant gliders through the following.
Adopting and encouraging innovative voluntary and statutory mechanisms that protect important habitats and movement corridors.
Securing and long-term protection of important habitat for crakes and rails.
Ensuring appropriate ecological assessment, reporting and survey procedures are adopted in development, planning and management activities.
Encouraging land management practices that avoid, or minimise, direct and indirect impacts on crakes and rails and their habitats on both public and private lands.
Ensuring the timely availability of accurate, adequate and contemporary information for policy, planning and management decisions and actions.
Facilitating research that targets priority information gaps and contributes positively to the conservation of Brisbane’s crakes and rails and their habitats.
Providing the Brisbane community with appropriate information and opportunities to contribute in a practical way to better understand and protect Brisbane’s crakes and rails.
Table 3 describes priority conservation actions that Council will pursue with its partners to address the stated strategies. These priority actions have been drawn from studies undertaken for Council by recognised bird experts and from consultation with a range of stakeholders. Actions will be undertaken as funds become available through Council’s budgetary process. It should be recognised that Council must consider the timing of these actions against other priorities across the whole of the city.
Table 3: Management Actions
Lead Agent and Key stakeholders9
Conserve and protect important crake and rail habitat on privately-owned land within Brisbane, through Council acquisition of significant habitat (Bushland Acquisition program) and conservation partnerships with private landowners (Wildlife Conservation Partnerships program).
Council, private landowners
Maintain habitat connectivity by ensuring linear infrastructure does not detrimentally impact on aquatic habitat connectivity in areas of wading bird habitat through Council’s Wildlife Movement Solutions program.
Where rehabilitation is being undertaken in suitable locations, replicate preferred habitats of crakes and rails.
Trial the replacement of weedy ground cover with vetiver grass (Vetivera zizaniodes).
Council, catchment and Habitat Brisbane groups
Develop a training course for Council field staff for the appropriate management of weedy wetlands.
Investigate options for mitigating the impacts of fuel reduction burns on the presence of crakes and rails and investigate the impact of wild fires which may be a greater threat.
Council, FABCon, universities
Seek collaborative partnerships to undertake research into: efficient techniques for the identification of presence of crakes and rails in Brisbane; distribution and abundance of crakes and rails in Brisbane; habitat preferences for all species in Brisbane; identify appropriate habitat areas within Brisbane that could be restored/rehabilitated; the impact of predatory domestic and feral animals on population structure and their effect on habitat quality e.g. trampling and pig rooting.
Investigate the impacts of invasive species on the presence of crakes and rails and develop options for mitigating these impacts.
Develop protocols for mitigating the effects of rehabilitation of weedy wetlands for community groups and local government.
The habitat protection and management guidelines detailed in Table 4 are provided to assist environmental planners, land owners, land managers, private industry, community conservation groups and the broader community. These guidelines are preliminary and will be refined as more information about these species and their habitat requirements becomes available.
Table 4: Habitat Protection and Management Guidelines
Protect and enhance crake and rail habitat by applying the Biodiversity, Waterway and Wetland Codes and the Ecological Assessment Guidelines in association with any species specific assessment criteria when undertaking works in waterway and wetland habitat areas.
These guidelines are detailed and prescriptive. Crakes and rails are vulnerable to any disturbance or clearing of waterway, wetland and associated natural habitat for these species. Desiltation works, broad scale weed clearing and other major works in riparian zones may disturb important crake and rail habitat.
Undertake a survey to identify the presence of crakes or rails in known habitat areas before any weed removal works are undertaken.
Dense weedy habitat associated with wetlands and waterways may contain significant crakes and rails.
Only remove weeds in small areas or patches and replace immediately with similar niche native plant species. Avoid works during the breeding season.
Large scale clearing of dense waterway weeds destroys what may be significant habitat and corridor cover for crakes and rails.
Ensure a mosaic pattern fire plan is practiced to ensure that all dense vegetation is not destroyed simultaneously. Liaise with the South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium to construct the most appropriate fire regime that ensures persistence of preferred habitat for crakes and rails.
Planned and unplanned fires destroy dense vegetation that is necessary habitat for crakes and rails. However, most riparian zones are generally in a fire exclusion zone and therefore may only burn in the event of a wild fire.
Inappropriate rehabilitation practices
Assess risk to crakes or rails as a result of proposed rehabilitation activities. Works should not proceed if it is likely to have a deleterious impact on crakes or rails in the area.
Rehabilitation, where possible should include the use of vetiver (a grass with an extensive root system) as a replacement for weedy ground cover. This should be done gradually with native plants and herbs planted in between. As these establish, remove the vetiver grass.
There is much literature on the use of vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides L) (e.g. Carlin et al. 2003; Truong 1999). Vetiver grass is a sterile cultivar that has been registered in Queensland as Monto Vetiver (Carlin et al. 2003). This cultivar does not self-seed, is non-evasive and has neither runners nor rhizomes. It also can be easily removed by uprooting or glyphosate application. It has been used extensively for erosion control and grows readily in a range of climate and soils. Vetiver grass is very effective in soil and moisture conservation in fragile wetland habitats.
Explore any opportunities to incorporate work that aims to connect crake and rail preferred habitats, particularly along drainage lines and watercourses into existing rehabilitation projects.
Existing rehabilitation projects, where appropriate, should aim to also target crake and rail recovery.
9 Further Information
Birds Australia (www.birdsaustralia.com.au)
Birds Queensland (www.birdsqueensland.org.au)
Brisbane City Council (www.brisbane.qld.gov.au)
Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (Commonwealth) (www.environment.gov.au)
Department of the Environment and Resource Management (Queensland) (www.derm.qld.gov.au)
Queensland Museum (www.qm.qld.gov.au)
BAAM 2005, Conservation Status Review of Cryptic Rails and Crakes: Australian Spotted Crake (Porzana fluminea), Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis), Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis), Pale-vented Bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana), Lewin’s Rail (Lewinia pectoralis) in Brisbane,
Unpublished report prepared for Brisbane City Council, Biodiversity Assessment and Management, Brisbane.
Barrett G, Silcocks A, Barry S, Cunningham R and Poulter R 2003, The New Atlas of Australian Birds, Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Hawthorn East.
Beruldsen D 2003, Australian Birds: their Nests and Eggs, Kenmore (self published).
Brisbane City Council 2000, Brisbane City Plan 2000, Natural Assets Planning Scheme Policy, vol. 2, pp. 140-144, Brisbane City Council, Brisbane.
Brisbane City Council 2001, Brisbane State of the Environment Report 2001, Brisbane City Council, Brisbane.
Carlin GD, Truong P, Cook FJ, Thomas E, Mischke L and Mischke K 2003, Vetiver grass hedges for control of runoff and drain stabilisation, Pimpama Queensland, CSIRO Land and Water, Brisbane, Technical Report 46/03: 1-27.
Czechura G 2007, ‘Birds’, Ryan M (ed.), Wildlife of Greater Brisbane 2nd Edition, Queensland Museum, Brisbane. pp. 297-361.
D, Woodwell, G. 1997, Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems. Issues in Ecology, No. 2. A publication of the Ecological Society of America, Washington DC.
DEWHA 2010, Australian Faunal Directory, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/online-resources/fauna/afd/taxa
Dunlop, R.R. 1970, Behaviour of the Banded Rail, Rallus philippensis, Sunbird, 1:3-15.
Jack N 1963, A list of the Birds of Brisbane, the author, Brisbane.
Low T 1995, The Animals of Brisbane: A vertebrate status review, Unpublished report prepared for Brisbane City Council.
Marchant S and Higgins PJ 1993, Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, vol. 2. Raptors to lapwings, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Truong PN 1999, Vetiver Grass Technology for land stabilization, erosion and sediment control in the Asia Pacific region. In: Proceedings of the First Asia Pacific Conference on Ground Water Bioengineering for Erosion Control and Slope Stabilisation, April 1999, Manila, The Philippines.
Venables I 1983, ‘Birds’, Davies W (ed.), Wildlife of the Brisbane Area, Jacaranda Press, Brisbane. pp. 54-79.
1 This document follows the nomenclature provided by the Commonwealth Department of Water, Heritage and the Arts’ online Australian Faunal Directory (DEWHA 2010), which is kept up to date with taxonomic revisions andprovides a single, categorical point of reference for common names and scientific names for Australian taxa.
2 Brisbane City Council 2000, Brisbane City Plan 2000, Natural Assets Planning Scheme Policy, vol. 2
3 Significant for South East Queensland Bioregion under the Biodiversity Assessment and Mapping Methodology (Environmental Protection Agency 2002)
4 Queensland Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulations 2006 under the Nature Conservation Act 1992
5 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
6 Listed as Marine Flyover species under EPBC Act (1999)
7 Unless otherwise stated, the information in this section is from Marchant and Higgins (1993). Due to the cryptic habits displayed by these species, very limited information on their distribution and abundance is available.
8 Unless otherwise stated, the information in this section is from Muscat (2003).
9 Council: Brisbane City Council, QM: Queensland Museum, FABCon: Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, QHerb: Queensland Herbarium.