Threats/Control Methods - Regional
Prolonged drought poses a significant risk to this species, as does the removal of water out of wetland areas for human-use and irrigation. Pollution and increased runoff from bushfires may also cause a threat to the health of the Darter.
Threats/Control Methods - Local
Local: Water bodies in urban areas are less resilient against periods of droughts or extreme weather events, causing a build-up of toxins and dangerous algae levels, which may impact the health of this species. For example, Jerrabomberra Creek Catchment is currently degraded from grazing, polluted stormwater from the Hume industrial estate, road surface runoff and rural residential developments.
It is important that our waterways remain free from pollution, to encourage healthy aquatic species. Joining in with a local Waterwatch activity can help improve water quality. At home, it is important avoid chemicals, pet faeces or garden waste going down the stormwater drain. Keep gutters clean and call the Canberra Connect helpline (02) 6207 9777 for specific chemical waste disposal information. Joining a Landcare revegetation activity around a local waterbodies will also improve the habitat areas for this species.
Darter, Snake Bird, Diver
This bird is very distinctive and can be recognised by its long, sharp, yellow bill, its long, S-shaped neck and its outstretched stance. It is fairly large, at 85-90cm and with a wingspan of 1.2 metres. Male birds are almost entirely glossy black coloured. A white stripe extends from below the light brown eye. The front of the neck is red-brown coloured and the open wings reveal white feathers throughout.
Call and visual identification.
A harsh, repeated 'kah-kah-kah-kah', also some clicking or hissing sounds.
This species is made unique from other waterbirds by its large size and sharp, dagger-like bill.
The Darter is a widespread species, frequenting the well-watered areas around mainland Australia. It is also found in New Guinea, Indonesia, India, Middle East, Madagascar and Africa south of the Sahara Desert.
Country of Origin
Conservation (Pet/Pest) Status - Regional
This species is uncommon to this region, with highest numbers at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands and along the Molonglo River.
Conservation (Pet/Pest) Status - National
Secure, not listed under the EPBC Act 1999.
11 sightings were made at the NMA and one on the ANU campus.
Associated vegetation community
The Darter depends heavily on rainfall, as it will only inhabit watered areas of at least half a metre in depth. It also favours areas with a wide variety of trees, different sized logs and thick vegetation surrounding and within the waterbody.
Darters only breed when water levels are high. This is usually during spring in this region of Australia. The nest is a rough platform of sticks, 40-50cm in diameter, lined with leaves and placed on a tree branch that overhangs the water. This nest may be used several years in a row. Usually four chalky, green tinged eggs are laid and incubated by both parents for about 28 days. In the first few weeks of life, young birds are fed 6-9 times a day by their regurgitating parents. The young birds are ready for independence about 50 days after hatching.
This species is most often seen perched on a dead tree branch in full sunlight, with its wings spread wide and its head pointed upwards. In this position they will preen their feathers, squeeze out their feathers with their bill or scratch their heads and necks with their webbed feet. It floats with most of its body under the water, with its head and neck looking snake-like above the surface. It hunts under the water with a spearing action of the head and neck and is often underwater for up to a minute at a time. Darter breeding pairs give one another wing-flapping displays and then defend their nests carefully, opening and closing their sharp bill, hissing and hopping about snapping.
This bird hunts and spears small fish, insects and other aquatic animals.
Due to their thorough protective behaviour around the nest, young Darters are less prone to attacks from common predators.
Unlike most water birds, the Darter's plumage is not waterproof, designed to give the bird an advantage when hunting underwater. This is why they must spend so much of their time drying off in the sun.
References - (reader suitability of references, P=Primary teachers, S=Secondary students, T=Tertiary students and researchers)
Books:Morcombe, M. 2000. Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing. Archerfield. Australia P, S, T
Schodde, R. and Tideman, S. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest Services Pty Ltd. Sydney. P, S, T
Internet: Canberra Ornithological Group (COG). 2004. Birds of Canberra Gardens. COG and the ACT Department of Urban Services. [online]. Available at:http://garden.canberrabirds.org.au/ P, S, T
Online Publications:ACT Government. 2006. Information Sheet: Stormwater Pollution from Residential Areas. Environment ACT. [online]. Available at: http://www.environment.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/13168/Stormwater_Pollution_from_Residential_Areas.pdf P, S, T
Nix, H. and Cunningham, R. 2006. Birds of the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment, Canberra ACT. Prepared for the Life in the Suburbs project using data from the Lower Sullivans Creek Catchment Ecological Survey (LSCCES). Australian National University. Canberra. [online]. Available at: http://www.lifeinthesuburbs.com.au/category.php?id=65 S, T
Queanbeyan City Council. 2004. Study on the Current State of Jerrabomberra Creek . Maunsell Australia Pty Ltd. Canberra. [online]. Available at: http://www.qcc.nsw.gov.au/Documents/YRJTKVCEDKP.pdf S, T