January 24, 2024

The aggressive, noisy environmental menace taking over Melbourne – with our help

By Adam Carey
January 24, 2024 — 12.00pm
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The native noisy miner bird is a serious environmental menace in Melbourne, driving other native birds out of the suburbs and disrupting their breeding cycles – and we are helping them to do it.

More open lawns and less tree canopy – both in backyards and public parks – have created the ideal habitat for noisy miners to dominate at the expense of other birds, such as robins and honeyeaters, research from La Trobe University has found.

The native noisy miner bird is a menace in urban environments, pushing out other, less noisy, native birds.Credit: Getty

The research poses challenges for community efforts to support avian biodiversity in Melbourne because noisy miners are protected in Australia but appear to be driving many other native bird species towards a more threatened status.

Small and vulnerable native birds, including yellow-faced honeyeaters, rose robins and dusky wood-swallows, have begun to disappear from suburban parks and residential gardens, pushed out of their foraging grounds by aggressive miners that are thriving in urban environments, the study found.

The miners’ territorial behaviour has pushed those species to the city’s remaining relatively-intact forests, such as along the Yarra River corridor.

Jacinta Humphrey, the researcher at La Trobe University’s Research Centre for Future Landscapes who led the study, said the design of Melbourne’s public parks and streetscapes favoured the noisy miner.

“What we’ve done in cities, especially here in Melbourne, is we’ve created the perfect habitat for noisy miners,” Humphrey said.

“They love to be on the edges of forests and woodland areas, where there are lots of gum trees and it’s fairly open, so they can perch up nice and high and look out over their territory, and they can easily defend that space.


“Normally, that’s not a problem, but in cities, we’ve created all these areas that have lots of open lawn, a row of eucalypt trees, and that’s exactly what they’re looking for. So they’re able to be really successful at living and breeding in our suburbs … and they’re pushing everything else out.”

Humphrey and her team surveyed 300 sites at 30 locations across Melbourne’s east and north-east, ranging from built-up areas to low-density suburbs with plentiful bushland.

La Trobe University researcher Jacinta Humphrey, pictured at Banyule Flats, says Melbourne’s native forest birds need more help to combat the aggressive native noisy miner. Credit: Justin McManus

They identified 69 bird species, including 30 native forest birds.

Sites had anywhere between zero and 17 species, but 83 per cent had five species or fewer. Sites with fewer native birds were mostly dominated by common species that have adapted to suburban environments, including the musk lorikeet, red wattlebird and pied currawong.


Smaller, insectivorous bird species were poorly represented in urban areas and mostly restricted to heavily forested parts of Melbourne with extensive understorey plant growth.

Native birds that were commonly found in Melbourne’s parks and gardens, such as the eastern yellow robin and the white-throated treecreeper, were observed at just a handful of the studied sites. Birds such as the white-eared and white-naped honeyeater were not seen at all.

Humphrey said the widespread problem of the introduced Indian – or common – myna driving other birds out of their nesting areas was well understood but that her study suggested the native miner was as harmful to urban biodiversity. Both the Indian myna and native miner are known for their aggression and loud call; the most notable difference is that the myna is brown and black while the miner is mostly grey.

“As soon as you’ve got areas with more native noisy miners, we’re seeing fewer species that are dependent on the forests and woodland areas; they’re just dropping out of the system completely,” she said.

There are lessons from the research for Melburnians keen to encourage a variety of native birds into their yards.

Smaller and less common native forest birds fared better in surveyed areas with greater tree canopy and shrub and mid-storey growth, which provides shelter and food.

Humphrey said a culling program for noisy miners might be effective but was probably unviable.

“The next best thing we can do is to just get more shrubs out into our suburbs to try and make the areas less suitable for noisy miners.”

BirdLife Australia’s urban bird program coordinator, Dr Annie Naimo, said La Trobe’s research backed up previous studies that found modified urban landscapes have spurred an increase in noisy miners correlating with a drop in small woodland bird numbers.


Naimo said people can support native birds by creating habitats around their homes, especially dense, spiky bushes where smaller, less aggressive species can seek shelter.

“It’s also important that larger-scale land managers like councils support habitat planting in public spaces, particularly as private yards become smaller.”

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Adam Carey is Senior City Reporter (suburban). He has held previous roles including education editor, state political correspondent and transport reporter. He joined The Age in 2007.Connect via Twitter or email.


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