Wetland wonderland for our waterbirds

Wet conditions in local wetlands are continuing to provide perfect breeding conditions for waterbirds.

Following a successful nesting phase over the last few weeks, wetlands are now providing homes for some welcome new residents - chicks!

Colonies of straw-necked ibis (also known as the Farmer's Friend), glossy ibis and royal spoonbills have been busy trampling lignum, reeds and sticks to create cosy homes for brand-new chicks in the Lower Lachlan near Booligal.

With new nests established, thousands of chicks are beginning to hatch, forming the next generation of waterbirds in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Once chicks hatch, both parents work hard to raise them through their 50 day 'nestling' period - this is the time it takes for them to develop before they become fledglings and leave the nest, like a teenager moving out of home.

There are a few main stages of chick development, each with their own endearing nickname.

When they first grow their flight or 'pin' feathers, they are called 'squirters'; when they start walking, they are 'runners'; when they work out how to flap their wings, they are 'flappers'; when they begin to fly, they are 'flyers'; before finally leaving the nest as 'fledglings'.

To keep an eye on the chicks throughout these stages, scientists from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office's monitoring program from the University of Canberra, the University of New South Wales and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, are regularly visiting nesting sites.

They check on the health of the chicks, what stage they're at, how many there are and other things such as water quality and abundance of food.

That way we can learn how to deliver water for the environment when and where its need to better support chicks as they grow.

While some small breeding events occur each year, this year's wet conditions mean it is shaping up to be a huge season for waterbird breeding. This will help to restore waterbird populations which have declined significantly over the past 30 years.

The large-scale inundation of Lachlan wetlands required to trigger mass bird breeding events doesn't occur as often or last as long as it once would have before river regulation.

So, whilst birds may still breed, if water-levels drop too quickly or wetlands dry out prematurely, birds will often abandon their nests.

'Water for the environment' can be used if required, to ensure the birds stay on their nests until their fledglings are ready to leave home.

Environmental flows can be used to 'top-up' wetlands, maintain a steady water level, and provide feeding areas to help maintain breeding conditions long enough for chicks to complete their growth stages, and finish what nature has begun.

Such flows also refresh water quality and reduce risk of disease in such dense colonies.

Keep an eye out for more updates on social media to find out how waterbird breeding colonies are progressing.

Follow the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder on Facebook and Twitter, and find out more about individual movements and waterbird info in general via CSIRO's Waterbird Facebook page (Waterbirds Australia), Twitter (@AusWaterbirds) and Instagram (@Waterbirds_Australia).