Analysis of birder data reveals Australia's most elusive species


Analysis of more than 3.8 million hours of eBird and Birdata records has revealed Australia's hardest-to-find species.

A study conducted by University of Queensland scientists looked through the mass of records – and found that Coxen's Fig Parrot, a highly endangered and rare subspecies of Double-eyed Fig Parrot, was the most elusive species to Australia's birders, based on the data.

A further 55 birds were listed in a group considered the most poorly recorded despite extensive survey effort, with other species that had the very lowest number of records including Letter-winged KiteNight Parrot and Buff-breasted and Red-chested Buttonquails.

Louis Backstrom from University of Queensland's School of the Environment led the research and said: "Coxen's Fig Parrots are small, dumpy, green parrots with very short tails, and historically they were scattered in rainforests between Bundaberg in Queensland and the Hastings River in New South Wales.

Coxen's Fig Parrot illustrated by Elizabeth Gould for John Gould's Birds of Australia (via Wikimedia).

"They've been sighted only once in every 81,000 citizen-science bird surveys on the east coast of Australia. But there are so few recent sightings that this mysterious little bird could be extinct."

Senior author on the research paper, Professor James Watson, said being on the 'least-known' list did not automatically mean the bird was rare.

"This list of elusive birds doesn't necessarily show the species that have the lowest populations or ones which are being driven to extinction by human activities because many of our rare and threatened species are actually quite well-known," he explained.

"Many endangered species receive research and conservation attention or are frequently seen by citizen scientists and birders. What this list shows is our country's most hard-to-find species – while some are quite rare, many simply live in remote and hard to get to places while others are secretive or nocturnal."

The researchers hope the insights can assist conservation efforts.

"The work we have been doing in the Research and Recovery of Endangered Species Group at UQ has already helped conservation efforts for Australia's Night Parrot, Red Goshawk and Australian Masked Owl," Professor Watson said.

"This list has helped us identify those species that need more attention. Hopefully, we have also inspired bird lovers around the country to seek out these lesser-known, hidden gems."



Backstrom, L J, Callaghan, C T, Fuller, R A, Leseberg, N P, Sanderson, S, & Watson, J E M. 2023. Using citizen science to identify Australia's least known birds and inform conservation action. Emu – Austral Ornithology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01584197.2023.2283443