The river and its banks form a busy network of highways for wildlife; from fish to birds, as well as reptiles and invertebrates. Whether we see them or not, native animals are making the most of their habitat.
This means that even as we enjoy river, we should also be thinking about and acting for the health of our waterways.
Keen to make a start? Head to the Riverkeeping section of the guide or visit the Werribee River Association volunteer page.
Birds of Werribee
The river hosts a mix of feathered creatures. Each bird family has particular requirements: tree hollows, pollen-bearing flowers, aquatic plants, insects. This diversity ensures that food webs across the ecosystem are balanced and resilient.
Some of the birds commonly seen along the Werribee River:
Parrots and cockatoos: Red-rumped Parrot, Rainbow Lorikeet, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Galah, Short-billed Corella
Honeyeaters: New Holland Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, White-Plumed Honeyeater
Wetland birds and waterfowl: Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Pacific Black Duck, Chestnut Teal, Little Pied Cormorant, White-faced Heron, Australian White Ibis, Australian Pelican
Passerines: Willy Wagtail, Superb Fairy-Wren, Welcome Swallow
The Werribee Blue-box is a unique subspecies (Eucalyptus baueriana subsp. Thalassina) endemic to the Werribee River catchment. It was first described in 2011 by taxonomist Kevin Rule. The Thalassina in the scientific name is from the Latin word for sea-green, referring to the lustrous colour of its new adult leaves in summer.
It tends to be smaller than typical blue-boxes in terms of its habit, leaves, buds and fruit. Locals had long suspected this meant it was a distinct species. It is found along watercourses and floodplains, much like the more dominant River Red Gums.
We often pass a river, creek or wetland without realising that, rather than looking empty, it is full of life underneath. Much like the rainforest ecosystem, our waterways have a vertical structure that carries different invertebrate species.
From larvae that feed on aquatic plants, like damselflies and dragonflies, to surface dwellers like water treaders and water striders, to free-swimming water boatmen, diving beetles and freshwater shrimp, and on to various worms, leeches and snails that sit on the riverbed.
This diversity provides food resources for different animals in the ecosystem, including the platypus. Some invertebrates are also sensitive to pollution and other imbalances in the river, which means they are indicator species for water quality.
The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a quirky animal that used to be more commonly spotted in the Werribee River. It is an aquatic mammal unique to the Australian continent, being one of only two mammals that lay eggs; the other being the echidna.
Its main diet consists of aquatic invertebrates, which it locates with specialised receptors in its bill. Platypuses are strong swimmers, using their webbed feet and tail to move in the water, where they can generally hold their breath for up to two minutes.
Two other threatened species in the Werribee River catchment are the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis, also called Southern Bell Frog) and Bibron’s Toadlet (Pseudophryne bibronii).
Amphibians such as these play key ecological functions. They limit the spread of algae, which they feed on as tadpoles. As adults they also help control insect populations; they are themselves a food source for other animals such as birds.
Like many ecological communities, the Werribee River catchment faces threats on several fronts: pollution, including via stormwater, urban development, habitat fragmentation, resource extraction, and introduced species.
Get to know your naturehood
Have you just moved to Wyndham or long wondered about the names of wildlife and vegetation in the area? Join one of the many nature programs offered by the Werribee River Association. Check their Facebook events calendar for guided walks and talks.
You can also be a citizen scientist by keeping eyes and ears out for frogs. Record your observations on Melbourne Water’s Frog Census app to help monitor these now-precious populations.