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Range and abundance
The Black Grasswren is an endemic of the northwest Kimberley region in Western Australia. It is found in the heavily dissected and rugged sandstone ranges that run from Admiralty Gulf in the north through the Mitchell Plateau and south to the Isdell River. They are locally common in some areas, yet are believed to be experiencing an ongoing decline.
The Black Grasswren is a small bird 21 cm in size with a broad tail. Its head is black with white streaks, males are black underneath while females are rufous – chestnut below. Both sexes have rufous backs.
This shy bird lives in areas of dissected sandstones and massive boulders where dense spinifex (Triodia spp.) tussocks grows in open woodland or shrublands. It rarely flies very high or for long, but instead hops around between spinifex tussocks in search of a variety of invertebrates, and the seeds of grasses and sedges. It builds domed nests within the spinifex and lays one or two eggs per clutch.
The Black Grasswren is probably threatened by an increase in the extent and frequency of wildfires, and by predation by feral cats. Although the extremely rugged terrain may protect some local areas of habitat from fire, the naturally small range of the Black Grasswren increases the probably that large portions of the population may be impacted by single widespread wildfires. Extensive and intense fires may leave unburnt refuges that are too small to support viable populations.
What is AWC doing?
AWC is protecting the Black Grasswren at the Artesian Range by implementing a regional fire management program (EcoFire). This prescribed burning program is designed to increase the patchiness of burns, decrease the extent of wildfires and increase the extent of old growth grasses. Increasing the extent of old growth spinifex is particularly important for the Black Grasswren, which is unlikely to re-occupy areas until at least 3 years after fire. AWC's ground-breaking research on the Black Grasswren has included a detailed study of the relationship between fire patterns and the bird’s ranging behaviour.