Plains-wanderer

On the brink of extinction, these birds evolved around 60 million years ago, when Australia was connected to America

JJ Harrison

A unique and elusive bird species native to the desert grasslands of southeastern Australia. With only an estimated 250 to 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild, this small ground-dwelling bird faces significant conservation challenges. Despite its superficial resemblance to quails, the Plains-wanderer is more closely related to gulls and other coastal birds, highlighting its evolutionary distinctiveness within the avian world.

Measuring between 12 to 15 centimeters (4.7 to 5.9 inches) in height and weighing between 40 to 95 grams (1.4 to 3.9 ounces), the Plains-wanderer possesses subtle yet distinctive features that enable it to blend seamlessly into its arid surroundings. Its fawn-colored plumage, adorned with intricate spots and streaks on the head and neck, provides effective camouflage against the dry grasslands of Australia’s plains.

Historically, the Plains-wanderer occupied a much broader range, spanning from Victoria to Queensland. However, due to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, its distribution has become increasingly restricted. Today, small, scattered populations persist in isolated pockets across western Victoria, eastern South Australia, and the western Riverina region of New South Wales. These remaining strongholds represent critical refuges for the survival of this endangered species.

The Plains wanderer’s lanky legs and refined beak are adaptations suited to its ground-dwelling lifestyle. Unlike many other bird species, it is primarily terrestrial, foraging for food and seeking shelter amidst the grassy plains. Its diet consists mainly of seeds, insects, and other small invertebrates, which it pecks and probes for among the vegetation.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Australia
250-1,000
Official estimate
EN
2022

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No