Improving management of Australia’s pest birds

Project Leader: John Tracey, Industry and Investment NSW

Aim: To estimate the impacts of birds to the horticultural industry, develop simple and efficient techniques for estimating damage, evaluate existing control methods, and provide tools for land managers to improve the management of pest birds.

Projects:  9.t.2

Project summary

Bird damage is a significant problem in Australia, with over 100 species that can cause significant losses to fruit, nut, grain, rice and aquaculture industries, create conflicts in urban areas, damage infrastructure, reduce aesthetic values, and pose risks to the environment and to human health. The direct losses to horticultural alone are estimated at over $300 million, which is more than three times greater than direct losses attributed to any other pest animal. Pest bird managers are also faced with increasing social, environmental and legal issues that further restrict the techniques that can be used to reduce bird impacts. New types of horticultural crops are being grown, growing practices are changing, values for horticultural products are increasing and the geographical range of production is expanding. These factors often result in the expansion of the range and impact of pest birds.

There are many control techniques available, but they are often ineffective and expensive and little objective advice is available. For example, total costs of control in horticulture were estimated from a national survey at $18.6 million (average of $110.2 per hectare), with most techniques failing to adequately protect crops. To allow land managers to effectively manage pest birds, support is needed to estimate the extent and severity of damage, to evaluate management alternatives, to assist in economic decision-making and to improve the adoption of strategic management. This project has addressed these outcomes.

Avian Influenza in Australia’s wild birds

It is now widely accepted by the international animal health community that an understanding of the ecology of avian influenza viruses within the wild bird population is essential in assessing the risks to human health and production industries, and in demonstrating freedom from disease. However, broad-scale surveillance is logistically difficult and cost prohibitive due to a number of factors including the natural low prevalence of the virus. This project has used updated information on waterbird ecology and movements and avian influenza epidemiology to maximise the efficiency and relevance of surveillance for avian influenza in Australia’s wild birds.

Alongside this work, a PhD project is also being conducted. John Tracey, Investment and Industry NSW and University of York evaluated management strategies for pest birds using bioeconomic models.

Key achievements

  • Simple and efficient techniques for estimating bird impacts developed, with costs of pest bird impacts and control in horticulture estimated for Australia.
  • Methods to reduce pest bird abundance and damage evaluated, with tools developed to improve pest bird management.
  • 11 cases studies demonstrating effective local and regional control produced.
  • National management guidelines for pest birds developed in cooperation with the Bureau of Rural Sciences.
  • Key national recommendations for future research and development produced with industry and government endorsement.
  • National risk-based framework developed for the surveillance of avian influenza in wild birds.

Key deliverables 2009-10

  • Costs and benefits of management techniques for pest birds evaluated.
  • A simple tool developed to allow land managers to compare the costs and benefits of bird netting over time.
  • Implementation of the national risk-based framework for the surveillance of avian influenza in wild birds in cooperation with the Avian Influenza Wild Bird Steering Group.

Project team

John Tracey, Brian Lukins, Dr Glen Saunders and Dr Randall Jones.

Project partners

IA CRC, Bureau of Rural Sciences, Industry and Investment NSW, Wildlife and Exotic Diseases Preparedness Program, Avian Influenza Wild Bird Steering Group, SA Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation, University of York, Lord Howe Island Board.

Further information

Australasian Pest Bird Network:

National Guidelines for the Management of Pest Birds:


Tracey JP (2009) Improving the relevance and efficiency of wild bird surveillance for avian influenza. Report to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Industry and Investment NSW, Invasive Animals CRC, Orange, NSW.

Tracey JP (2009) Economics of bird netting: a tool for Harcourt apple growers. A report to the Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Harcourt Fruit Growers Association. Industry and Investment NSW, Invasive Animals CRC, Orange, NSW.

Tracey JP (2009) Bird pests In: Crawford C (Ed) Vertebrate Pest Management Course Handbook. 23-27 March 2009, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange NSW.

Haynes L et al (2009) Australian surveillance for avian influenza viruses in wild birds (July 2005 to June 2007). Australian Veterinary Journal 87, 266-272.

Guay P-J, Tracey JP (2009) Using genetics to guide management decisions for Lord Howe Island ducks Proceedings of the Australian Ornithological Conference, December.

Guay P-J, Tracey JP (2009) Hybridisation between Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) on Lord Howe Island: What can genetics tell us? Proceedings of the Waterbirds and Wetlands Conference. Managing for Resilience, 9-13 November 2009, Fivebough and Tuckerbil Wetlands Trust Inc, Leeton, NSW.

Guay P-J, Tracey JP (2009) Feral Mallards – A risk for hybridisation with wild Pacific Black Ducks in Australia? Victorian Naturalist 126.

For further information, contact us.

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