This article featured in Wildlife Lands  Issue 22

Despite its reputation as one of the world’s driest continents, Australia is home to some of the most unique and adaptable waterbirds around. Around 260 species live here, many of which have evolved special traits to thrive in a country with unpredictable rain and harsh droughts. Most waterbirds travel enormous distances to follow rainfall events, or synchronise mass breeding seasons with floods. The chestnut teal, however, is one of the few Australian species which can tolerate saline environments, giving it a distinct advantage in estuaries, mudflats and lagoons

Chestnut teals gather along the Victorian and South Australian coasts from July to January for the breeding season. They nest in long grass, tree hollows and rocks along the banks of swamps and estuaries.

They may seem like a common species, but chestnut teal populations have faced major declines over the past 20 years. Their coastal habitats have suffered from the drainage and pollution of waterways, vegetation clearing and development; and introduced foxes have become a major predator of both birds and eggs.

The chestnut teal’s widespread distribution has also made them a favourite target for the 25,000 game bird hunters that gather every autumn in NSW, Victoria and South Australia for the duck hunting season. Around 387,000 waterbirds are shot every year, with chestnut teals making up a large proportion of this.

Despite the pressures already facing this species, the culling quotas for shooting licenses administered to landowners remains at 10%, an excessively high figure which allows hunters to kill far more than is necessary. This year, Humane Society International is nominating the NSW quotas as a Key Threatening Process to this species, in a bid to draw attention to the unsustainable culling program and urge a review in the way this species is managed. Along with this, HSI is also currently nominating the chestnut teal for a Vulnerable listing in NSW.

Alongside fighting for better recognition and protection for the chestnut teal, HSI has called on the Victorian Government to ban duck hunting seasons in years where drought has impacted waterbird populations. We’re also nominating habitats like the Macquarie Marshes (see opposite) for increased federal protections to protect and improve waterbird rookeries and feeding grounds.

Chestnut teals may still be seen as abundant and ubiquitous, but they are still invaluable as a species and as part of wider ecosystem webs. By addressing the long-term threats affecting them now, we can break the all too familiar pattern of species endangerment in the near future.