A Waterfowl Identification Test (WIT) must be passed before obtaining a licence to shoot ‘game’ birds in Victoria. This was implemented in 1990 because threatened Freckled Ducks, which are unique to Australia and said to be one of the most threatened waterbirds in the world, were still being illegally shot.
Ornithologists estimate the Freckled Duck population at only 11,000 – 26,000 birds and the species is listed as ‘endangered’ under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 – Threatened List, October 2021. DELWP’s Victorian Framework for Conserving Threatened Species states:
“The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act places importance on prevention to ensure that more species do not become threatened in the future. The Act emphasises the importance of cooperative approaches to biodiversity conservation and recognises that all government agencies and the community need to participate in the conservation effort.
The Act’s objectives aim to conserve all of Victoria’s native plants and animals.”
If DELWP seriously want to avoid more species becoming threatened in the future, then it is imperative that recreational duck shooting is banned in Victoria.
Blue-winged Shovelers and Hardhead ducks were once plentiful and included on the so-called ‘game’ list but due to climate change and over-shooting, these birds are now listed as threatened. Inevitably, other game species will follow down the same path.
CADS’ rescuers continue to recover illegally shot threatened, endangered and vulnerable Freckled duck, Blue-billed duck, Blue-winged Shoveler, Hardhead and Musk ducks, despite shooters having to pass a one-off Waterfowl Identification Test.
CADS’ rescuers recovered 272 Freckled Ducks from just one wetland during the 1993 duck shooting season.
Over 100 illegally shot threatened Freckled Ducks were recovered during the first week of the 2014 duck shooting season.
THREATENED BLUE-BILLED DUCKS
The Blue-billed Duck is a threatened native waterbird that is illegally shot on a regular basis.
This deep diving bird played a major role in the banning of lead shot in Victoria.
In 1989, rescuers recovered dead Blue-billed Ducks from Lake Boort and x-rays showed their gizzards contained up to 80 lead pellets. They had died from chronic lead poising.
A phase-out of lead shot was recommended after an investigation by the Victorian Department of Conservation in 1990. The shooting organisations stalled the ban by campaigning against it. However, a decade later, in 2002, lead shot was finally banned and when the shooting organisations realized the ban couldn’t be stopped, they spuriously claimed they had instigated this change.
Tonnes of lead still remains in Victorian wetlands and will continue killing birds for the next 100 years.
The numbers of Blue-winged Shovelers have steadily declined since the early 2000s and the species was periodically removed, but then reinstated on the so-called ‘game’ list (in order to keep the shooters happy). However, in 2022 their numbers had dropped to such an extent that the species was finally declared ‘vulnerable’ on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 – Threatened List. Blue-winged Shovelers are now permanently protected and have been removed from the ‘game’ list.
With climate change and the over-shooting of so-called ‘game’ species, it is inevitable that other game species, all of which are dramatically dropping in numbers, will also join the threatened list. Tragically our politicians don’t have the vision to protect native waterbirds until numbers reach critically low levels.
In 2022 the Hardhead Duck was also declared a vulnerable species and removed from the game list.
PROTECTED BLACK SWANS
Many species of birds are terrified by the sound of shotguns. Huge numbers of birds take off once shooting starts and circle around the wetlands in panic. Black swans are sometimes too traumatised to land and can fall out of the sky from exhaustion. Many are illegally shot and left to suffer.
The shooters had left their red spent shotgun cartridges behind.
A dead swan was found nearby. It was taken to Melbourne and an x-ray revealed over 30 shotgun pellets (below). It had obviously been shot at close range. Swans are supposed to be fully protected.
After shooting commenced at the opening of the 2022 Victorian duck shooting season at Lake Bael Bael, a Ramsar wetland of International Importance near Kerang, hundreds of swans circled the wetland in terror. Rescuers later found many abandoned swan nests and also young cygnets unable to fly, which had been abandoned by their parents.
Although not duck species, these common, yet so-called ‘protected’ wetland species always suffer huge casualties during duck shooting seasons. The first two birds ever recovered by rescuers in 1986 were Eurasian Coot.
Between 2011 and 2019, from just a handful of wetlands, rescuers recovered 488 of these illegally shot protected birds – more than any other species.
Rather than risk being charged with illegally shooting a protected species, these birds are left by shooters to rot on the wetlands.
OTHER PROTECTED SPECIES
Apart from Freckled Ducks, Blue-billed Ducks, Musk Ducks, Blue-winged Shovelers and Hardhead Ducks, which are all classified as threatened, and Australasian Coot, Purple Swamp Hens and Dusky Moor Hens, which are supposed to be protected, the following are some of the other protected species which have been recovered by rescuers over the years after being shot by duck shooters.