Pedionomidae – Plains-wanderer

The monotypic family that is almost on the brink of extinction

This family consists of a single species: the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), a small, ground-dwelling bird endemic to the grasslands of southeastern Australia, particularly the Riverina region of New South Wales. This bird is so unique in its behavior and morphology that it is classified in its own family, Pedionomidae, separate from other ground birds, such as quails, with which it shares some superficial similarities.

Measuring between 15 and 19 centimeters in length, the plains wanderer is not a large bird, but it is distinctive. The adult male is characterized by light brown upper parts that provide excellent camouflage against the grassland habitat, with fawn-white underparts speckled with black crescents. The adult female, notably larger than the male, is distinguished by a striking white-spotted black collar, an unusual case where the female is more prominently marked than the male, which is contrary to the norm in most bird species.

The plains wanderer’s behavior is particularly adapted to its open grassland environment. These birds have developed excellent camouflage that allows them to blend seamlessly with their surroundings. When disturbed, their first instinct is to hide rather than to take flight. This is partly due to their flightlessness; while they can fly short distances, they prefer to rely on their running ability to escape predators.

The breeding behavior of the plains wanderer is also of interest. Females lay up to four eggs, after which the male takes on the responsibility for incubation. This is a role reversal from many bird species, where the female typically incubates the eggs. The male’s commitment to brooding and raising the young is integral to the species’ reproductive success.