Australian Painted Snipe
(Rostratula australis)

This Australian endemic occurs widely but unevenly across the continent. It is found in a variety of wetland habitats, from permanent and temporary lakes and claypans to swamps and marshes. The species belongs to a small family of only three members – the Rostratulidae. Despite similarities in appearance this family is not closely related to the snipes. Although this species has a large range it is classified as Endangered as much of the wetland area it relies upon, especially in regions of greatest abundance and breeding, has been denied water supply and converted for human use. Indeed, since Europeans arrived in the country Australia has lost almost half of its freshwater wetland habitat. This has undoubtedly been the primary cause of decline for the Australian Painted Snipe.

Urgent Conservation Actions
Research on range and distribution is required, protection of key wetland areas including guarantee of water supply and local community engagement.
Extensive occurrence in Australia; regularly reported only in much smaller areas
Unusually, the male takes on all the parental duties – incubating the eggs and rearing the chicks.
Media from ARKive
Arkive image - Female Australian painted snipe
Arkive image - Female Australian painted snipe
Arkive image - Male Australian painted snipe
Arkive image - Australian painted snipe
Arkive image - Australian painted snipe, underside of wing
Arkive image - Australian painted snipe, wing detail
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Rostratulidae
The Rostratulidae are a small family of only three living species, which are more commonly known as the painted snipes. Despite close similarity in appearance, the Rostratulidae are not closely related to snipes. The resemblance is due to convergent evolution, where similar characteristics evolve independently due similar selection pressures. This family is actually more closely related to the Plains-wanderer and the Jacanas and Seedsnipes. The Australian Painted Snipe forms the genus Rostratula with one other species – the Greater Painted Snipe, Rostratula benghalensis. The Australian species was originally recognised by Gould in 1838, but was subsequently merged into Rostratula benghalensis. In 2008, the species was then confirmed as a distinct species based on morphological and genetic differences. The third species of painted snipe Nycticryphes semicollaris is the sole member of its genus.
The tree below shows the evolutionary relationships between this species and all other birds. The colours of the tree indicate EDGE scores with the red shades indicating the higher priority species; the bright red leaves correspond to the top 100 EDGE bird species. Further information on every species can be found by zooming in to its leaf on the tree.
The species has quite a stocky appearance, with rounded wings. It has a long pink-yellow bill, which gets darker towards the tip. The female is larger and more colourful than the male. There is a white stripe on the crown and white surrounding the eye. The back and wings have a green sheen to them with fine black barring. A white V-shape occurs on its upper back, extending to the shoulders. The males are smaller in size and duller overall, with extensive beige spots on the wings.
The Australian Painted Snipe is usually solitary, infrequently in small flocks. These loose gatherings occur mainly after the breeding season. Nests are usually scrapes in the ground, in shallow wetlands and commonly on islets with a thin lining of leaves, stems or dry grass. Breeding has been recorded throughout the year and across the continent, though the majority of records are from eastern Australia. Breeding may occur in response to suitable wetland conditions, thus in different seasons in southern Australia than in the north. Females usually rear offspring opportunistically according to habitat availability, laying an average of 3–4 eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts for between 15–21 days. The males assume parental care from incubation to brooding. They are omnivorous feeding on worms, insects, molluscs, crustaceans, plants and seeds, foraging at dawn and (especially) at dusk.
The Australian Painted Snipe is found primarily on shallow, freshwater wetlands including swamps and claypans, also in permanent and temporary lakes. Records have also come from waterlogged grasslands, saltmarshes, dams, rice fields and sewage fields, but they do not breed in these areas. They favour areas with short or discontinuous cover including tussocks of grass, sedges or reeds and wetland shrubs.
Endemic to Australia, this species is found in the wetlands of every mainland state and territory but is thought to be more common in eastern parts of the country. A large proportion of the population is thought to inhabit the Murray-Darling Basin in the south-east though extensive areas of suitable temporary habitat in remote regions are rarely visited by observers.
Population Estimate

600–1,700 adults

Population Trend
Since Europeans arrived in Australia it is thought that almost half of the country’s freshwater wetlands have been drained and converted for human use. This has had a severe impact on Australian Painted Snipe numbers, which rely on this habitat to survive. In particular, the regulation of river flows, reduced inundation of floodplains and diversion of water from wetlands to agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin has had serious consequences for the painted-snipe. Invasive plant species have been able to establish in some areas, outcompeting native vegetation. In Queensland introduced grasses have smothered wetlands, leaving no open areas for the Australian Painted Snipe.
Conservation Underway
Since 2001, BirdLife Australia has been monitoring the distribution and population size of the species, creating a database to store this important information. This was part of a wider initiative by the Threatened Bird Network and Australasian Wader Studies Group to research the species and implement a recovery plan.
Conservation Proposed
Further research is needed on the species distribution and movements, as well as its tolerance for secondary habitat. Continued monitoring of population size at a landscape scale is essential. Establish protected areas to encompass key identified breeding and wintering sites, as well as any areas identified as important for the species in the future. Engage with landowners to ensure the quality of habitat on private estates. Control non-native predators and curtail use of wetlands by grazing cattle. Restore degraded wetlands by ensuring supply of water to floodplains, especially in the Murray Darling basin, ensuring involvement of local communities.
BirdLife International (2013) Species factsheet: Rostratula australis. Downloaded from www.birdlife.org on 10/06/2013.

del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (editors). (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Editions.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2013). Rostratula australis in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available from: www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Mon, 10 Jun 2013

Christidis, L. and Boles, W. (2008). Systematics and taxonomy of Australian Birds. Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing

Lane, B. A. and Rogers, D. I. (2000). The Australian Painted-snipe, Rostratula (benghalensis) australis: an Endangered species? Stilt 36: 26-34

Marchant, S. and Higgins, P. J. (1993). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, 2: raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Rogers, D., Hance, I., Paton, S., Tzaros, C., Griffioen, P., Herring, M., Jaensch, R., Oring, L., Silcocks, A. and Weston, M. (2005). The breeding bottleneck: breeding habitat and population decline in the Australian Painted Snipe. In: Straw, P. (ed.), Status and Conservation of Seabirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Thomas, J., Purnell, C., Ingwersen, D., Tzaros, C. and Rogers, D. (2010). Meet Australia's newest species. Wingspan 20(1): 20-25
Text compiled by Michelle Harrison. Factchecked by Roger Jaensch.

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