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Birds tumble from the sky

Life in the air

"in 2019 there are fewer birds and fewer hunters. A few years ago the surface of Lake Cullen would have been densely packed with thousands upon thousands of waterbirds from numerous species. Surrounding the lake, perhaps 6,000 hunters".

Peter and Andrea Hylands

February 27, 2024

A Ramsar site in the state of Victoria one Saturday morning in March 2019.

The killing begins

We are at a Ramsar site in the state of Victoria one Saturday morning in March 2019. When the shooting begins the birds rise from the surface of the lake as one. There is chaos and death and suffering as a vast cloud of metal shot, once lead, smashes into the vast number of birds. The birds tumble from the sky. Children as young as twelve years old are encouraged to shoot the birds.

Ramsar morning

Red light
Sad swan
Ramsar not for you
Dead heart
Cruel soul
Look at that young girl
It’s such a joy
to see her kill
Keep clear of here
Birds are dying
Wounded birds splash
We don’t care
It’s our choice
We keep killing
Politicians think it’s fun
Bully in the bush
Bleak mid-autumn
Drought laid bare
Get a gun
Look at that young boy
It’s such a joy
to see him kill
Ramsar Hell
Ramsar mourning
Birds tumble from the sky

End song

Why would you cry?
For us
No voice
You don’t belong
You can bleed
Ramsar Hell
Ramsar mourning
Birds tumble from the sky
On this Ramsar morning

Nature notes


Ducks crossing road sign adjacent to duck shooting hotspot

ABOVE: A certain madness, in the middle of the greatest bird killing zone

Among the most extreme environmental conditions in Victorian colonial history, of heat, of drought, of fire, as the breeding seasons and bird populations collapse, the same old same old from the Victorian Government and yet again with a different spin. This time they are dispersed. This from the government’s Game Management Authority:

“While the data showed that game duck abundance, breeding and habitat were reduced, it also showed they were more widely dispersed than usual and were therefore not subject to over harvesting pressure in Victoria".

My own maths tells me that 300,000 birds could get shot over the next few weeks, if what I hear floating down from the steps of the Victorian Parliament is correct, that is, the bird count just prior to the duck opening season turns out to be the same number, 300,000. Well that is all of them then. While it is unlikely that every single bird that happens to be ‘game species’ is going to get shot I think this demonstrates the problem.

Lucky then that they are ‘dispersed'.

They were certainly not dispersed on the opening day at Lake Cullen where they were concentrated. Of the three other lakes on the Kerang Ramsar Wetland near to Lake Cullen, the most attractive lake type for birdlife, that we inspected early in the morning of the duck shoot opening, there were no birds (ZERO) and no shooters. In that place and on the Kerang Ramsar Wetland, birds were indeed concentrated on Lake Cullen and NOT dispersed.



"Overall, counts in 2018 were similar to those of the previous year, but, due to the dry conditions, waterbirds tended to be concentrated on a smaller number of large, more permanent wetlands. Victorian Government bird count 2018.”

The statement below is from Birdlife Australia (the Australian equivalent of the RSPB). Many more birds are wounded and in a ‘good’ year we might expect the so-called ‘harvest’ (many birds are left or discarded) to be around 650,000 in Victoria. That is just from one state in Australia. Birds that are not ducks also get caught up in the slaughter and are not counted.

“According to official estimates by the Victorian Government’s Game Management Authority (which oversees the annual duck shooting season), nearly 400,000 ducks were ‘harvested’ in Victoria during the 2018 duck shooting season — 396,708, to be exact. That’s an astonishing number of native birds killed for no reason other than the enjoyment of a dwindling number of hunters. Add to that the number of native ducks shot across South Australia and Tasmania and the figure will be even more staggering”.

A matter of abundance

One of the things we often discuss in Australia is what landscapes looked like and contained fifty years ago, one hundred years ago and so on. There is plenty of written evidence from early reports from explorers or settlers which detail what once existed in a landscape. Importantly, we have known many Aboriginal elders across the continent over many decades and their descriptions of what the landscapes they knew so well looked like and contained are very different to what we see today. These reports often vary greatly from what politicians and public servants claim to be the case. Species distribution maps also get rewritten in the colonial mind.

The decline of biodiversity that we have witnessed over the last 45 years ,including the number of animals, in Australia is both astounding and deeply distressing.

The claims from the Victorian Department of Environment (DELWP), for example, that species of Australian wildlife are over abundant are silly in the context of what the populations of numerous native species were just 200 years ago. In the case of the Koala it is likely that its population is now less than one per cent of its pre-colonial population, what is missing of course is the Koala’s habitat and remaining animals are compressed into smaller and smaller places.  There are also numerous places in the state where they are regionally extinct. This brings us to a point where this department is resisting the rescue of young Koalas from bush fire zones, this conduct is both intensely cruel and an extremely irresponsible pathway to inevitable extinction.

Koalas heading for extinction

Killing Koalas: A species on the edge of extinction and also described as overabundant

If we all took the trouble to understand the history of Australian landscapes then perhaps biodiversity would have a better future.

Back to birdlife, here is one observation from 1838:

…at three miles further the description of the natives was verified, the river spread out into a large freshwater lake to which I gave the name of Lake Hindmarsh after the first Governor of South Australia… …the lake appeared about thirty-five miles in circumference but did not seem deep near the shores – the water fowl upon it were innumerable… …the water of the lake, tho’ fresh, left an unpleasant taste, probably from the vast numbers of waterfowls frequenting it…

From Edward Eyre’s Autobiographical Narrative of Residence and Exploration in Australia 1832-1839 (edited with an introduction and notes by Jill Waterhouse in 1984), Chapter 12, 3rd March–23rd April 1838 (page 140).


NOTE: Lake Hindmarsh is to the south of Lake Albacutya (Ramsar listed) and to the north of the Victorian town Jeparit.