Song and dance for critically endangered bird on Yorta Yorta Country

Friday 12 May, 2023

When Yorta Yorta woman Sissy Cooper started work on the Icon Species project for the Australasian Bittern, she decided to choreograph a dance about the bird and how it interacts in its environment.

Barmah National Park is jointly managed by the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and provides critical habitat for Australasian Bitterns. This new dance was performed as part of a community engagement day in the park to raise awareness about this bird that is critically endangered in Victoria.

Yorta Yorta dancers Dhungala Yalka

Sissy Cooper (centre) with the Dhungala Yalka (River Children) Dance Group. Credit: Parks Victoria

The Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) is a secretive heron cloaked in camouflage feathers that make it difficult to detect. They are known to freeze when they feel threatened and sometimes sway in the breeze in time with the reeds they live amongst to avoid being seen.

The Australasian Bittern in Barmah National Park a secretive and critically endangered bird in Victoria

There are an estimated 1,300 Australasian Bitterns nationally, and the wetlands of the Barmah-Millewa Forest are home to a high percentage of the population Credit: Tim Barlow, Goulburn Broken CMA


This critically endangered bird is an important indicator species for the health of the broader ecosystem. Indicator species give us an idea of the health of the surrounding environment.

Monitoring the Australasian Bittern is tricky. The distinctive booming call of the males gives them away, so monitoring revolves around eavesdropping.

To help conservation efforts, acoustic monitors have been placed in the preferred habitats. Using these song meters, we can track the population by the sound of their calls.

The Icon Species project

These audio recordings are part of a Charles Sturt University research project led by Dr Elizabeth Znidersic, in collaboration with NSW Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority. You can listen to the audio recordings via the Eavesdropping on wetland birds’ project.

The Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners are a key partner in the Icon Species Barmah Australasian Bittern project which aims to increase knowledge of the location and abundance of the species within Barmah National Park and nearby wetland habitat.

Aerial view of Barmah National Park

Barmah National Park is jointly managed by the Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners and Parks Victoria. Credit: Parks Victoria

Barmah National Park and part of the River Murray Reserve in Victoria, and the Murray Valley National Park in New South Wales are part of the Barmah-Millewa Forest which is listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention).


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