Birds flock to Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant in record numbers
There’s always been an abundance of wildlife at Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, but annual surveying over winter confirms some bird species are using the landscape in higher numbers than ever before – including vulnerable and endangered varieties.
As we recognise National Bird Week and Australian Bird Count Day, the open landscape within the Western Treatment Plant has attracted some of the highest wildfowl numbers on record.
Over more than 20 years, Melbourne Water has been conducting winter and summer surveys of shorebirds, wildfowl and other waterbirds at its Western Treatment Plant. The most recent survey broke the record for winter counts of Black Swan (2,705), Chestnut Teal (6,099), and Eurasian Coot (9,355), while Pacific Black Duck (9,842) numbers were the highest ever recorded at any time of year.
In more exciting news, larger numbers of some of Victoria’s vulnerable species were also seen. The Australasian Shoveler – listed as vulnerable species in Victoria – was seen in its largest numbers in over 10 years (2,866 individuals), while the Australasian Bittern and Brolga – both endangered – were also recorded.
The vast grass and wetlands at the Western Treatment Plant make it a popular destination for wildlife according to Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant Conservation and Land Officer, Cody McCormack.
“The combination of abundant resources and permanent water makes the site attractive for birds,” McCormack said.
“The sewerage process is key to facilitating this as the abundance of nutrients within the ponds provides and/or creates a rich source of food for the birdlife, while the nutrients released onto the foreshore create an abundance of food for invertebrates that are then feasted on by birdlife.”
Dr Danny Rogers – an ornithologist from the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action) – believes birdlife is moving to places like the Western Treatment Plant in search of more secure food and water supplies now that wetlands in inland Australia are drying up.
“Australian waterbirds have enjoyed great breeding success in three consecutive La Nina years thanks to extensive inland flooding,” Rogers said.
“(But now) the inland is starting to dry out and waterbirds are starting to move to areas with more secure water supplies.”
Dr Rogers also predicted that “we could be in for a very good waterbird season at the WTP, given that there is an incipient El Nino and predictions for a hot, dry summer”.
“Our biggest wildfowl count at the Western Treatment Plant ever was 198,000 birds – perhaps we will crack the magic 200,000 this summer,” Rogers said.
In addition to increasing bird numbers, surveyors also monitor the numbers of the nationally threatened Growling Grass Frog. Studies conducted between October 2022 and March 2023 confirmed 6,291 frogs were counted, beating the previous best by 292%.
It shows that the fertile land at the Western Treatment Plant is a haven for our wildlife and an important site for breeding and their ongoing protection.
The historic Western Treatment Plant in Werribee is a world leader in environmentally-friendly sewage treatment, and one of Victoria’s most unlikely hidden treasures.
Roughly the size of Phillip Island, the vast site is home to more than just sewage treatment facilities – doubling as a working farm and internationally-recognised bird habitat. Here, agriculture and biodiversity meet resource recovery, education and ecotourism, supporting Melbourne’s renowned liveability.
Header image: Black swans sighted at the Western Treatment Plant