Philip N. 1997
in: 'A survey of Plains-wanderers
Pedionomus torquatus and native grasslands on the Riverine Plain',
New South Wales, Birds Australia, Hawthorn, Vic.
Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus is an Australian endemic
species that has long evoked interest from the world ornithological
community. It is the sole member of the family Pedionomide (Olsen and
Steadman 1981), having no known living relatives. Plains-wanderers superficially
resemble button-quail (Turnix spp) in that females are larger
and more brightly coloured than males and have bright yellow legs and
bill and give a low ooming call. However, they are more closely related
to plovers and dotterels (Olsen and Steadman 1981). Like button-quail,
the male Plains-wanderer does most of the incubation and chick rearing
(Baker-Gabb et al 1990) if not all of it. The disparity in size and
role reversal of the sexes during breeding is unusual among birds.
prime habitat on the Riverine Plain is the hard, red-brown earths with
a sparse covering of native herbs and grasses. Red-brown earths are
irregularly distributed across the Plain (primarily brown, red and grey
clays) and are found
mainly on elevated plains or along levees of prior streams and their
Plains-wanderer habitat contains around 50% bare ground (Baker-Gabb
et al 1990) and two levels in the structure of the grassland: a lower
layer of 8cm or less which is important for concealment from aerial
predators and a sparser layer of 10 -40cm. Plains-wanderers can sometimes
be found in grassland with almost no upper layer but are rarely found
if there is no lower layer.
of the genera Stipa, Danthonia, Helipterum, Helichrysum,
Chrysocephalum and Calocephalus are usually present in
grasslands where Plains-wanderers are located. Chrysocephalum apiculatum
(formerly Helichrysum apiculatum) together with Stipa
are good indicator species of Plains-wanderer habitat.
living in such an open environment, are vulnerable to predators such
as Black Falcons Falco subniger, Brown Falcons Falco berigora
and Spotted Harriers Circus assimilis. Their camouflage and cryptic
daylight behaviour are their main safeguard. When disturbed at night
Plains-wanderers are less secretive. They rarely fly during the day,
however, when they do, their flight is more dipping and uneven than
at night, presumedly as a defence against raptors. Their flight pattern
at night is slow and direct, resembling a crake's (Porzana spp)
with rapid, shallow wingbeats and legs trailing out behind. They are
diurnal, feeding on a wide variety of seeds and ground dwelling insects
years of average rainfall Plains-wanderers pair up in July, have eggs
in August and young in September. However if conditions are wet in August
and September they are more likely to successfully produce young in
October and November. On two occassions during wet conditions Plains-wanderers
have been recorded on raised grass nests about 30 mm off the ground.
They will continue to breed through the summer if there have been good
rains. Breeding can also occur in autumn, particularly if there has
been little success in the spring and summer. Plains-wanderers breed
best in years of average rainfall rather than excessively wet or dry
years. Since 1981, in the southern Riverina, they appear to have failed
to breed in the spring and summer of the drought years (1982-83 and
1994) and bred with little success in the wet years (1990-92).
1200 Plains-wanderers, including those recorded in the current surveys,
have been recorded on 31 properties in the Riverina by the author to
the end of 1997.