Research project: Historical changes in the birds of Sydney


Start date:
Applying radio transmitter to female Superb Fairy-wren

Applying radio transmitter to female Superb Fairy-wren
Photographer: Michael Major © Michael Major

Museum investigators

External investigators

  • Holly Parsons, Birds Australia

Funded by

  • Australian Museum


Sydney has an abundant bird life but the bird community is very different from that occurring at the time of European settlement. Most research investigating the effect of urbanization on animals infers temporal change by comparing the species composition of present urban habitats with that of nearby "natural" sites. Differences between the two habitat types are considered to reflect the historical change due to urbanization. However, transformation of a landscape through the process of urbanization can be so intense that it is difficult to determine which contemporary habitats should be used as the non-urban comparisons. It is therefore highly desirable to use any historical data available to measure change over time.

The aim of this study is to identify changes in the bird community of Sydney associated with urbanization, by comparing the bird community pre-1900 with that of circa-2000. To do this, we are analyzing the ornithology databases of the Australian Museum and the National Museum of Victoria, comparing them with data from Birds Australia's Atlas of Australian Birds.

The major differences in the bird community between the two periods are that the number of species of parrots has increased, the honeyeater species that are now present are larger and there are now more exotic species and carnivorous species. These results are similar to those obtained from comparison of urban areas and nearby bushland. The major contribution of the historical data is in detecting changes in species that are now rarer in a range of habitats, including two species of threatened parrot and species inhabiting salt marsh.

Dr Richard Major , Principal Research Scientist
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