1878: “…gallant little birds” (Wagga Wagga Advertiser)

1915: “… the carol of the magpie is eclipsed by the song of the miner” (Emu)

2004: “…the mafia of the bird world” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

2015: “I hate those f***in things” (RedditAustralia)

Through the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century, notwithstanding its role as an agricultural pest, the Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala was considered with affection by colonial society. The species’ reputation has been severely damaged in recent decades, however, on account of its violent tendencies towards smaller woodland birds, including many of conservation concern. Aggressive exclusion of small woodland birds from potential woodland habitat by Noisy Miners was declared a Key Threatening Process under federal conservation legislation in 2014. Given that Noisy Miners, other woodland birds, and the post-ice age woodland environment have been co-evolving for at least 10 000 years, how did the natural competitive behaviour of Noisy Miners become an ecological problem? In this paper I review historical references to Noisy Miners and current research on the ecology of the species to construct a trajectory of change. Culturally, these changes include a shift in attitudes to the species from agricultural pest and popular native bird to a vilified, “overabundant” native species and nemesis of small woodland birds. Ecologically, changes have included an expansion in distribution and abundance of Noisy Miners. This has led to an increase in scale of the effects of Noisy Miner aggression on small woodland birds. The historical record contains many references to Noisy Miner aggression against other species, the first appearing within four years of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Evidence that such aggression could affect the abundance and distribution of small woodland birds, however, appears only in the period after World War II. The changing ecological role of Noisy Miners, and the associated changes in cultural attitude to the species, appear linked to the loss, fragmentation and degradation of native woodland in eastern Australia since the introduction of European agriculture and urbanization. In particular, the change in ecological role of the Noisy Miner appears to be linked to the accelerated rates of deforestation in the post-war period. Such broadscale habitat modification has both benefitted Noisy Miners and exacerbated declines in woodland-dependent small birds.

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