Australian Field Ornithology 2022, 39, 45–46
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020
Edited by Stephen T. Garnett and G. Barry Baker
CSIRO Publishing, 2021. Hardback 816 pp.
ISBN 9781486311903. RRP AU$ 150.00.
I vividly remember receiving the weighty tome that was
the Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett &
Crowley 2000), poring through the pages, and soaking up
the conservation assessments and directions, not just for
threatened species, but for subspecies as well, many of
which I was previously unaware.
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020 is the fourth
instalment of a series of assessments that now span four
decades (Garnett 1992; Garnett & Crowley 2000; Garnett
et al. 2011). The 2010 Action Plan, published by CSIRO
Publishing, set the format on which this 2020 version is
based and spawned similarly arranged Action Plans for
mammals (Woinarski et al. 2014) and lizards and snakes
(Chapple et al. 2019).
The 2020 Action Plan documents 216 taxa that are now
considered threatened in Australia, up from 195 in the
2010 Action Plan and 134 in the 1990 Action Plan (Garnett
& Baker 2021). The editors consider climate change to
be the main driver pushing threatened birds towards
extinction. These include well-publicised extreme events:
The Black Summer bushres of 2019-20 – which were
exacerbated by climate change contributed to the listing
of 27 birds as threatened. We estimate that in just one day
alone – January 6, 2020 – about half the population of all
16 bird species endemic or largely conned to Kangaroo
Island were incinerated…
(Garnett & Baker 2021). But other impacts of climate
change that we are currently experiencing are also threats,
including increasing heat stress and drought for small
populations of threatened species and loss of habitat for
waders because of rising seas.
There is some good news. The 2020 Action Plan
documents declines in extinction risk for 23 Australian
bird taxa, including the Southern Cassowary Casuarius
casuarius, because of conservation eorts over many
years (more details on the active conservation eorts for
many of these species can be read in Garnett et al. 2018).
Each taxon account contains the following
information: 2020 conservation status, IUCN Red List
criteria, Justication of status, Status trends assessed
retrospectively in 2020, Global IUCN Red List status of
species, EPBC Act status, Status certainty, 2010 Action
Plan status, Current eligibility against IUCN Red List
Criteria, IUCN Red List assessment data, Infraspecic taxa,
Range (with map), Indigenous lands, Abundance, Ecology,
Monitoring, Threats, Threats assessment, Conservation
objectives, Conservation actions underway, Research
required, Management actions required, and Bibliography,
as well as a sketch. The tables presented (Current eligibility
against IUCN Red List Criteria, IUCN Red List assessment
data, and Threats assessment) interrupt the ow of text
and are somewhat eye-glazing, but nonetheless provide
A welcome change from past Action Plans is the use of
full common/English names for subspecies to reect the
current use for so many of these taxa (see Ehmke et al.
2018). In past Action Plans, the South-eastern Red-tailed
Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne, for
example, would have been listed as ‘Red-tailed Black-
There is clearly more detail on each taxon than in
previous Action Plans. For some lesser-known taxa (e.g.
the Yellabinna Rufous Grasswren Amytornis striatus
aenigma and the Cowarie Thick-billed Grasswren
A. modestus cowarie), it is probably the most information
yet published in any source. Articles from Australian Field
46 Australian Field Ornithology Book Review: The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020
Ornithology (including Australian Bird Watcher) have
been referenced 77 times, highlighting the important
contribution that articles in this journal are making to
ecology and conservation. These contributions include
baseline surveys, documenting important ecological and
natural history information, assessments of conservation
status and potentially threatening processes (and busting
myths on species presumed extinct in past Action Plans—
see Menkhorst & Morley 2017a,b). Australian Field
Ornithology will continue to prioritise papers that have clear
implications for conservation of Australasian birds and to
encourage readers and potential authors to look closely at
the ‘Research required’ sections of the 2020 Action Plan
and to ll those research gaps.
The 2020 Action Plan diers from past Action Plans in that
each species account has specic authors—experts often
actively researching or undertaking conservation actions
for those species. As the editors suggest “over 300 experts
are given a direct voice”, and this is welcome recognition
of their contributions. However, this ‘recognition’ is given
only as a citation at the end of the species entry. Strangely,
there is no listing of the full names (or aliations) of these
expert contributors anywhere in this 808-page book, as is
standard practice for edited volumes (including for CSIRO
Publishing edited books).
Harking back to 2000, the other thing I distinctly remember
about receiving the Action Plan from that year was that it
was free. At $150, the 2020 Action Plan is unlikely to get to
the audience that it needs to, especially sta in government
environment departments, natural resource management
agencies and citizen scientists. It would be good to see
this and future editions of this work of national importance
published open access online to provide the information
and guidance for future conservation policies, on-ground
measures and research.
The editors and all author contributors are to be
congratulated for producing another important assessment
of the conservation status of Australian avifauna. In
particular, Australian bird conservation owes a debt of
gratitude to Stephen Garnett for steadily steering the ship
of systematic assessments of bird conservation status
in the country over four decades. At a time when many
threatened species lack current or any recovery plans and
when the Australian Government is moving away from
comprehensive recovery plans to ‘conservation advice’
(Cox 2021; Garnett 2021), Action Plans such as the 2020
plan provide important and consistent information and
direction for conservation action and research.
Chapple, D.G., Tingley, R., Mitchell, N.J., Macdonald,
S.L., Keogh, J.S., Shea, G.M., Bowles, P., Cox, N.A. &
Woinarski, J.C.Z. (2019). The Action Plan for Australian Lizards
and Snakes 2017. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
Cox, L. (2021). Coalition proposes to scrap recovery plans
for 200 endangered species and habitats. The Guardian
18 September 2021. Available online: https://www.theguardian.
Ehmke, G., Fitzsimons, J.A. & Garnett, S.T. (2018). Standardising
English names for Australian bird subspecies as a conservation
tool. Bird Conservation International 28, 73–85.
Garnett, S. (1992). The Action Plan for Australian Birds. Australian
National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.
Garnett, S. (2021). Australia’s threatened species protections are
being rewritten. But what’s really needed is money and legal
teeth. The Conversation 30 September 2021. Available online:
Garnett, S. & Baker, B. (2021). More than 200 Australian birds
are now threatened with extinction – and climate change is the
biggest danger. The Conversation 1 December 2021. Available
Garnett, S.T. & Crowley, G.M. (2000). The Action Plan for
Australian Birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra.
Garnett, S., Latch, P., Lindenmayer, D. & Woinarski, J. (Eds)
(2018). Recovering Australian Threatened Species: A Book of
Hope. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
Garnett, S.T., Szabo, J.K. & Dutson, G. (2011). The Action Plan
for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
Menkhorst, P. & Morley C. (2017a) The Otway Forester Strepera
graculina ashbyi: A neglected and misunderstood subspecies
of the Pied Currawong from southern Victoria. Australian Field
Ornithology 34, 37–46.
Menkhorst, P. & Morley C. (2017b). Taxonomic and nomenclatural
implications of a review of the Pied Currawong Strepera
graculina in southern Victoria. Australian Field Ornithology 34,
Woinarski, J.C.Z., Burbidge, A.A. & Harrison, P.L. (2014). The
Action Plan for Australian Mammals 2012. CSIRO Publishing,
The Nature Conservancy, and
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University,