What are Emu-wrens?

Emu-wrens are small birds with a tail of only six feathers that look like they belong on an emu. They eat insects and cannot fly very well, so they tend to hop and scramble through their habitat. You find them living in dense, low vegetation but unless you have good vision they’re difficult to spot because of their secretive nature.  

Typically, these beautiful birds have a very high-pitched trill but when it’s necessary to sound an alarm, they will make a loud, low-pitch call.

Emu-wrens (genus Stipiturus) are members of the passerine family Maluridae (Australian and New Guinea fairy-wrens) and are endemic to Australia, which means that they are only found in this country.

The Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren (S. malachurus intermedius) is one of the eight sub-species of the Southern Emu-wren. The Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren (MLRSEW) is the bird that started this whole project.

mount lofty ranges southern emu-wren male


What’s so special about the Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren?

Well, the Southern Emu-wrens are the largest of the three emu-wren species and the MLRSEW is a subspecies of this. Don’t let that fool you though – at a maximum length of 19cm and the weight of a $2 coin, MLRSEW are not really not very big at all! As the name suggests, this species of emu-wren lives in the Mount Lofty Ranges. What the name doesn’t tell you is that this sub-species is confined to the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges region of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

This limited area that the birds live in is actually one of the reasons that they are listed as endangered under both the EPBC Act and the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW Act). Other reasons include aging habitat, reduced food sources and predators. In some respects they are a bit like Goldilocks... they like things just right!

The short, rounded wings of the MLRSEW means that their flight journeys are brief, making it difficult for them to move across paddocks and roads and between patches of vegetation. This is why it is so important to protect the area where they live.

Between 1920 and 1993 the MLRSEW is known to have disappeared completely from several locations including Black Valley, Currency Creek and Yundi. From 1993 to 2010, 19 populations became locally extinct (meaning they no longer were found in a specific location) and there was a 35% decline in naturally occupied area. In 2010, just 16 of 54 previously recorded sites were occupied, 10 of these in swamp and 6 in dry-heath.

What's the current situation? 

Currently, the largest population has recently been recorded in the Lower Finniss River swamp. Within this area there are between 26-50 pairs, so this is only 52-100 individuals. The next largest group (estimated to be less than 25 pairs) is found in Deep Creek Conservation Park.

mount lofty ranges southern emu-wren

Although it is clear that MLRSEW numbers are dropping, it is hard to measure the exact impacts causing the decline of a bird that is so rarely spotted. But even though the numbers are low, that does not mean that all is lost – and that’s exactly why we have the Recovery Program!

You can find out more information about the MLRSEW in 'Caring for our Fleurieu Swamps, FACT SHEET 4: Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wren'. Download the PDF by clicking on the image below. 

emu wren fact sheet cover

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Contact Conservation SA on (08) 8223 5155, general@conservationsa.org.au, or at our offices at the Joinery at 111 Franklin Street, Adelaide.

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