Recently, one of our WIRES members, Julie Reid, logged a Bush-hen into our database. Upon further investigation it was found that a small community of these threatened birds live around the Jiggi wetlands area.
The Bush-hen is not to be confused with the more prolific swamp-hen. In NSW, the Bush-hen is listed as 'Vulnerable and Rare'. Only 58 known locations have been listed in NSW and documentation within Australia has been scarce and erratic.
Little is known about the Bush-hens biology, largely because it is a very secretive bird that is more often heard than seen as it dwells in very dense vegetation. However, the voice and call of the Bush-hen are quite distinct and consist of shrieks, piping and clicks.
They are vocal all year, becoming very noisy in the morning and afternoon and sometimes into the evening, especially during the breeding season.
The Bush-hens are mainly nocturnal but have been noted to remain active on overcast days. They rarely fly, preferring to keep to the shade, often wading in water. Despite their long slender toes, they do not walk on floating vegetation. During the day they rest on coarse, nest-like roosting platforms built in grass tussocks or lantana in densely over-grown margins of permanent terrestrial freshwater wetlands such as creeks and rivers, billabongs, ponds, swamps, waterholes, dams, lakes and roadside ditches.
They have rarely been sighted more than 300m from a water source and commonly stay within 100m of their waterside habitat. Their movements and home range are still unclear. It is suggested that they are nomadic in some areas, while sedentary in others. At several locations, such as Murwillumbah, the Bush-hen was described as a resident bird; at other places such as Richmond Hill, (near Lismore) they appear to be nomadic and absent for several years during the dry
season. This suggests that the birds may be sedentary in areas that have permanent water but nomadic in areas that have semi-permanent water. All sites that have permanent water should be considered potential breeding sites.
Although mainly a solitary bird the Bush-hen will occur in pairs or in family groups of up to six young. Their diet is unknown. However it has been suggested that they eat seeds, plant material, insects and occasionally frogs.
Their breeding biology is also poorly understood because few nests have been found; they appear
to breed from October to April. The nest is placed in clumps of grass, tussocks or shrubbery and is a shallow bowl moulded into a cavity by the bird's body. A roof is made from bending down surrounding stems. The clutches vary from five to seven eggs.
In NE NSW, sightings extend from around the Tweed Heads/Murwillumbah area, down the east coast to Evans Head and inland to Woodenbong. Their major strongholds appear to be the catchment areas south-west of Murwillumbah, west of Brunswick Heads, north of Kyogle, north of Lismore and south-west of Ballina. Several locations exist within the many tributaries of Coopers and Upper Coopers Creek and the Richmond River, emphasising the importance of these creeks and rivers to Bush-hens. The catchment area of Nightcap Range may also prove to be a valuable site.
Please report any sightings to our hotline 02 662 818 98.