Media release: Have you seen the White-fronted Chat?

The Australian Museum needs you to look out for the White-fronted Chat, a tiny bird threatened by climate change.

A new Australian Museum research study is searching for the tiny White-fronted Chat - weighing just 13g and measuring 12cm - to help save the pocket populations in NSW threatened by climate change.

With projected sea-level rises set to eradicate their coastal saltmarsh homes - more than 80% of which has already been destroyed by urban development in the Sydney region - the Museum is looking to protect the species which is rapidly declining and increasingly isolated in scattered coastal areas.

Once common in wetlands in suburbs such as Ashfield, Belmore, Bondi, Chatswood, Homebush and Randwick, the White-fronted Chat is now found in just two Sydney locations: Towra Point, Botany Bay and Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush Bay.

Australian Museum Ecologist, Richard Major, said the birds are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and the pressures of isolation.

"The national population of White-fronted Chats declined by 36% between 1980 and 2000 and its demise across the greater Sydney region is particularly striking," he said.

"While healthy populations remain in the Hunter Estuary to the north and at Shoalhaven Heads to the south, there is a very real risk that northern populations will be isolated from the main distribution in southern Australian given the decline of urban populations in Sydney and the poor prognosis for the species under climate change projections."

The new Museum study - led by Dr Major and geneticist, Rebecca Johnson and funded through research grants from the Lake Macquarie City Council and the Herman Slade Foundation - will search for small populations of White-fronted Chats in the saltmarshes of the Tuggerah Lake and Lake Macquarie areas of NSW.

Last recorded in 1998, it is hoped that if these populations still exist, they may provide the stepping stone needed to facilitate exchange between the populations north and south of Sydney.

The study will intensively survey the area to locate and band birds to enable monitoring of adult survival rates and reproductive success. Before the birds are released, feathers will also be used for DNA extraction, allowing researchers to examine the genetics of different populations to measure levels of gene flow between potentially isolated populations.

The research results will be used to help protect the White-fronted Chat and to determine whether special conservation assistance is required for declining populations in certain coastal areas of NSW.

Have you seen a White-fronted Chat?

If you have seen a White-fronted Chat in your local neighbourhood and/or you have information you believe could assist with this research study, please contact Dr Richard Major.


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