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Due to habitat clearing, fragmentation and alteration, the Brush-tailed Phascogale has
decline through much of its range. One of the key factors in its decline is believed to be the
reduction in tree hollows. In order to counteract this reduced habitat component, the
Nillumbik Conservation Corridors program has been assisted by providing Brush-tailed
Phascogale nest boxes to the local community. On-going monitoring of these nest boxes is
critical to provide information about the distribution of Phascogales in Nillumbik, the effects
of conservation management and to ensure the nest boxes are not being used by introduced
species. There are a number of methods available to monitor nest boxes outlined within
this document, with details and data sheets on what information to collect during monitoring.
Introduction - Brush-tailed Phascogale
The brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale
tapoatafa), is one of three phascogale
species in Australia. It is a small nocturnal,
arboreal marsupial belonging to the
Dasyuridae family. They have a long pointed
nose, conspicuous black eyes and large
grey-pink ears. The have a grey head and
back with pale cream underbelly and the
characteristic black brush-tail.
Adults may grow to more than 400mm in total
body length of which approximately half is
their body length and half their tail. An adult
phascogales average body weight ranges
from 156g (female) or 231g (male) up to
311g (Humphries & Seebeck, 1997).
Brush-tailed Phascogales are a dry woodland/forest species, which rely upon a variety of
treed habitats that typically requires a mean annual rainfall of 500-2000mm (Cuttle, 1983).
This species optimal habitat is open dry forest with a relatively open understorey and the
presence of tree hollows. They are dependent on tree hollows for breeding and shelter, and
have showed some preference for rough-barked tree species which may be easier to climb
and provide their food source of insects, spiders and occasionally nectar. Phascogales can
move over the ground through less optimal habitat, with individuals being recorded in
scattered trees in farmland, up to 225m from roadside vegetation (van der Ree, 2006).
Their preferred vegetation types found in Nillumbik Shire include Box-Stringybark woodland
and Grassy Dry Forest. These include species such as Red Box Eucalyptus polyanthemos,
Red Stringybark E. macrorhyncha, Long-leafed Box E. goniocalyx, Spreading Wattle Acacia
genistifolia, Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii and Cherry Ballart Exocarpos cupressiformis. The
understorey is usually made up of Tussock-grass Poa sp., Red-anther Wallaby Grass
Rytidosperma pallidum and Slender Bitter-pea Daviesia leptophylla.
Victorian Distribution
Figure one shows the known sites of brush-tailed phascogales recorded in Victoria based on
data from the Atlas of Living Australia. These include historical records for the species. The
distribution throughout the state has been heavily fragmented since European settlement,
including throughout the Melbourne metropolitan area where the brush-tailed phascogale is
limited in range to the foothills to the East & North-East of Melbourne (Humphries &
Seebeck, 1997). The phascogale populations in Nillumbik are believed to be the closest to
occurring population to Melbourne (Beardsell, 1997).
Figure 1: Atlas of Living Australia historical and current data showing the distribution of Brush-tailed Phascogales
(blue circle).
The home range of female Brush-tailed Phascogales range from approximately 2 to 60ha,
depending on habitat quality. Females home range rarely overlap, lessening intraspecific
competition whilst foraging, mating and for nest site selection (Soderquist, 1995; van der
Ree et al., 2001). Male home rangers are larger and can be over 100ha, they also overlap
with home range of both sexes (Traill and Coates, 1993; Soderquist, 1995).
Mating occurs over a 2-3 period in the winter months and results in the majority of males
dying from stress related causes following the breeding season. This life history pattern,
common in other members of the dasyuridae family, is referred to as semelparity and is a
strategy to ease interspecific competition with the next generation but may leave the species
prone to stochastic events.
After a gestational period of approximately 30 days a litter of
up to eight young are born. The female lacks a true pouch,
instead an area surrounding the teats enlarges during
gestation. The young may remain on the teat for
approximately seven weeks, after which they are left in the
nursery hollow whilst the mother forages nocturnally,
returning during the night to feed and assist the young in
maintaining their body temperature. Juveniles disperse at
the end of weaning, in early summer (Soderquist and Lill,
1995). Females will reproduce in their first year and have
been known to live for a maximum of three years, yet rarely
survive for a second breeding season and usually produce
one litter (Soderquist, 1993).
The phascogale is considered as one of the most arboreal of the dasyuridae species,
spending up to 95% of their life in the canopy, however these species will travel along the
ground and are often seen on the ground where they are more visible to humans and
predators. The phascogales diet is predominately comprised of invertebrates which are in
abundance amongst the rough barked trunks and larger limbs of trees. Small vertebrate
remains, from mammals and birds, have also been observed in phascogale scats. This
species also displays opportunistic feeding behaviour, supplementing their carnivorous diet
with nectar from Eucalypt flowers when in season (Scarff et al., 1998).
The current population trend has been estimated by the IUCN as declining at ~30% over ten
An estimated 50% of the phascogale’s distribution range has been lost since European
settlement this is a continuing threat from:
Deforestation for timber production and firewood collection
Clearing & agricultural practices
Habitat degradation & fragmentation
Inappropriate planned fire regimes & wildfire events
Predation from the red fox Vulpes vulpes and cats Felis cattus
A clearly declining population which is prone to stochastic events
Natural hollow paucity
Conservation status
Prior to European settlement, the phascogale was considered to be common and
widespread in Australian lowland woodlands and forests. However, since European
settlement there has been a significant loss of habitat, particularly throughout temperate
areas of Victoria.
The conservation status of the brush-tailed phascogale is:
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List
(International): Near threatened
Flora & Fauna Guarantee Act (State): Threatened
Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria: Vulnerable
What can be done to help?
A continuing decline in numbers of appropriate natural nesting sites is a significant issue
regarding the species’ conservation. Nillumbik’s Conservation Corridor implementation of the
phascogale nest box program aims to increase the number of available nesting sites in
appropriate habitat. Local conservation of the species through this program will involve nest
box installation followed by monitoring to allow for valuable data collection.
The program allows residents to monitor and plot phascogale populations and their activity.
A better understanding of local populations and a greater accuracy regarding population
distribution would provide relevant data to inform further conservation management of this
Monitoring Guidelines
When to undertake monitoring
As part of the Nillumbik Conservation Corridors project we are aiming monitor nest boxes at
least annually, this provides important information about species distribution, but also
provides a chance to inspect nest boxes to see if they require maintenance. We recommend
monitoring nest boxes between January and May, in order to reduce disturbance during
How to observe nest box users
Method 1: Observations from ground (stag watching/sit and wait)
This is the least invasive method of monitoring the use of nest boxes and therefore is one of
the recommended methods if you have the time and/or a number of people to assist. The
simple process involves spending some time observing whether any animals leave the nest
box, preferable you would have two people per nest box and then each nest box in the
immediate area would be surveyed on the same night. The best time to observe activity is
dusk, observing 30 minutes before dusk and 10/15 minutes following will provide a
reasonable chance of viewing whether the nest box is currently being used. As the light is
obviously poor during this time, you may choose to use a spotlight to help identify the
Tips for Spotlighting - the spotlight should be held near the observer’s line of vision to
maximise the chance of detecting eye shine (light reflected from animals’ eyes). Minimise
the amount of time the spotlight is shone directly on the animal and whenever possible, use
a red light which will cause less disturbance to the animal.
Method 2: Nest Box Camera Monitoring Guide
This is another effective monitoring method with little interfere to individual animals and has
the benefit of providing evidence of usage, even if the individual is not currently using the
nest box when monitoring. The NCC project has a nest box camera that can be used to
monitor nest boxes. The wireless monitor that comes with the camera can be used to
photograph or video the animal/s inside the box to help with the identification of the animals
inside the box.
Usage Instructions
Prior to extending the pole, turn the camera on by rolling the power switch all the way
until the light on the end is as bright as it can be.
Two or more people are required to use the camera; one to hold the extension pole
and another to guide the operator, view the monitor and take the photos/videos when
the camera is positioned correctly in the nest box.
Although the pole can extend to 8m, don’t raise it above the 3rd extension
(approximately 3 - 4m) unless confident or strong enough to raise it higher. The pole
and camera becomes very difficult to manage at heights above 3 – 4m.
Watch out for powerlines, particularly
around road reserves. Although the
pole is mainly fiberglass, there are
some components which are carbon
fibre so it can conduct electricity. The
person holding the monitor and guiding
the operator should guide where the
pole goes to ensure it doesn’t hit any
You may need to angle the end of the
camera for different situations and
different nest boxes. You can
manoeuvre the pole which will cause
the flexible tube to manoeuvre into
position. The person watching the
monitor will be able to guide you and
can tell you when to stop when they can
see inside the nest box properly.
Note: The lens and the tube are water resistant when assembled, but the monitor and
the handle are not so please do not to use the system when it is raining. The camera
runs on 4 AA NiMH batteries. A battery charger is available from the NCC project
Operating the Monitor
The monitor works wirelessly from up to 10m away from the camera.
Press and hold the power switch on the monitor for 2 seconds until the power
indicator turns green.
Keep the monitor on Channel 4 otherwise the image from the camera will not appear
on the screen. If you happen to accidently change the channel, keep pressing the 
button until you get back to Channel 4 or until you see a picture on the screen
(provided the camera is on).
To switch between video and camera press the  button until you see the camera or
video symbol on the top left corner of the screen.
To take a photo or a video press the OK button. To stop recording a video press the
OK button again.
To replay a photo or video on the monitor press the  button to go to the photo/video
folders and use the  buttons to scroll through the images. Press OK to view it and
press OK again to exit. More information on deleting files can be found in the manual.
The monitor charges via a power adapter which is located inside the storage case.
Connect the monitor to the adapter and the adapter to a power plug. For further
instructions refer to page 7 of the user manual.
Viewing the Photos or Videos
The images are stored on a 4GB micro SD card. To get this card out you will need to push it
in and it should pop out. There is a micro SD card adaptor in the box, you will need to use
this adaptor to view and download any images using a SD card reader. You can also plug
the monitor straight into the computer or compatible TV using the cables provided and this
negates the need to remove the micro SD card.
Method 3: Observation via ladder
As we always want to reduce the risk of anyone injuring themselves as well as reducing the
disturbance caused by monitoring, we don’t recommend accessing the nest boxes via a
ladder. However if this method is undertake we want to reduce the level of disturbance,
therefore during the inspection the nest box entrance should be blocked and a piece of clear
Perspex can be used to cover the top when the lid is lifted, this will reduce the chance of
escape which may result in predation as these species would normal only be active at night.
What information to collect
1. When first installing nest boxes it is great to collect some one-off information about
where the next box is located. Appendix one shows the installation data sheet used
to collect this information.
2. When undertaking on-going monitoring of the nest box we collect information about
the presence of an animal, as well as any evidence of usage. Appendix two is the
data sheet used for monitoring of nest boxes.
Species Identification Tips
Brush tailed Phascogale
Single short black strip in the middle of the face (from the nose)
Thick black ‘bottle brush’ tail
Sugar Gliders
Have a shorter, rounder faces than Phascogales
Several black stripes on head, with a white patch of fur below the ears
Grey and black furry tail, which may have a white tip (more consistent in width).
Beardsell, C (1997) The NEROC Report. Sites of Faunal and Habitat Significance in North
East Melbourne. Greensborough, Nillumbik Shire Council.
Cuttle, P (1983) Brush-tailed Phascogale, Phascogale tapoatafa. Page 34-35 in Strahan R.
(ed.) The Australian Museum Complete Book Of Australian Mammals. Angus and
Roberston: Sydney.
Humphries, R & Seebeck, J (2003) Action Statement Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.
No. 79 Brush-tailed Phascogale. The State of Victoria, Department of Natural Resources
and Environment.
Scarff, F.R., Rhind, S.G. and Bradley, J.S. (1998) Diet and foraging behaviour of brush-tailed
phascogales (Phascogale tapoatafa) in the jarrah forest of south-western Australia. Wildlife
Research 25: 511-526.
Soderquist, T (1993a) Maternal Strategies of Phascogale Tapoatafa (Marsupialia:
Dasyuridea). I. Breeding Seasonality and Maternal Investment. Australian Journal of
Zoology 41, 549-566.
Soderquist, T (1993b) Maternal Strategies of Phascogale Tapoatafa (Marsupialia:
Dasyuridea). II. Juvenile thermoregulation and maternal attendance. Australian Journal of
Zoology 41, 567-576.
Soderquist, T (1995) Spatial organisation of the arboreal carnivorous marsupial Phascogale
tapoatafa. Journal of Zoology 237: 385-398.
Soderquist, T and Lill, A (1995). Natal dispersal and phiopatry in the carnivorous marsupial I
(Dasyuridae). Ethology 99: 297-312.
Traill, B.J. and Coates, T.D. (1993) Field observations on the Brush-tailed Phascogale
Phascogale tapoatafa (Marsupialia: Dasyuridea). Australian Mammalogy 16: 61-65.
van der Ree , R., Soderquist, T. and Bennet, A (2001) Home-range use by the brush-tailed
phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) (Marsupialia) in high-quality, spatially limited habitat.
van der Ree, R., Bennett, A. and Soderquist, T (2006) Nest-tree selection by the threatened
brush-tailed phascogale (phascogale tapoatafa) (marsupialia: dasyuridae) in a highly
fragmented agricultural landscape, Wildlife research 33: 113-119.
Appendix 1: Nest Box Installation Data Sheet
Landcare region (if applicable):
Contact person name/email:
Date of
Latitude or
or Easting
April 2015
45.108851 Red box
Height of Nest box
nest box aspect
# of hollow
bearing trees
(50m radius)
Data sheet instruction notes
1. Nest Box Code. This is an individual code you can assign to each of your nest boxes. This can simply be the abbreviation of your
Landcare area (in the example CH = Christmas Hills) and then a unique number/letter.
2. Type. Which design (target species) did you use for your nest box, for example phascogale, bat or pardalote.
3. Latitude/Longitude. Collected using a GPS, this provides an accurate location of the nest boxes. If you don’t have access to a GPS, you
can create a map – I suggest taking a google earth/map print out of the region (zoomed in) and marking the locations.
4. Tree species. This can be scientific or common name. If you don’t know the species, please include any information you can, e.g.
stringybark eucalyptus, unsure of species.
5. Tree DBH. Tree Diameter at Breast Height. After taking this measurement over and over I now always visually estimate this value,
however if you would prefer you can use a tape measure to measure the circumference for the truck at approximately shoulder height
(technically it is 1.35m up from the highest point of ground at the tree’s base) and then divide that by π or 3.14 to get the diameter.
6. Height of nest box. The distance from the ground to the bottom of the nest box.
7. Nest Box Aspect. The direction in which the next box has been installed, such as the nest box is on the Eastern side of the tree.
8. # of hollow bearing trees (50m radius). The number of trees which appear to have tree hollows within an estimated 50m radius of the tree
with the nest box.
The diameter of the truck
tree with nest box
50m radius diagram
Appendix two: Nest Box Monitoring Data Sheet
Landcare region (if applicable):
Property address:
Observer name:
Observer email address:
Monitoring method
Camera (C)
Remote Camera (RC)
Visual inspection (V)
Other (O)
Animal observed
Number of
observed individuals
(e.g. Sugar present
Other evidence of usage
Evidence of Evidence
Age of evidence
(e.g. nest)
Photo ID
Data sheet instruction notes
The NCC would like to begin gathering information of the usage of nest boxes. The aim is to have all nest boxes monitored at least once a year
(January to May is ideal) and data to be sent into the NCC project manager ([email protected]). This information will help us look
at changes in species disturbing throughout the shire and to examine and improve the effectiveness of using nest boxes to provide additional
1. Nest Box Code. This code will match the code used in your nest box installation data sheets.
2. Monitoring method. This refers to the method used to check the nest box. Where C = camera on extension pole (the NCC has one of
these which can be used) and is a good method so animals are not disturbed, RC = remote camera, where you have a motion sensing
camera set up to watch the nest box, V = a visual inspection by lifting the lid of the box, this is often done by climbing a ladder and needs
to follow safety procedures, this method also causes the most disturbance to the animal and is the least preference method and O = other
observation, such as spot lighting or an incidental observation of an animal entering the box.
3. Animal Observed. If an actual animal is observed, list the species and the number of individuals seen.
4. Evidence of usage. If no animal is observed, but there is evidence of an animal having used the nest box (nest/scats/scratches on the
box) use this section. Evidence type can provide a lot of information about which species could be using the nest box. If there is a nest
also include the materials used to make it i.e. bark nest. Recent/Old/Unsure relates to if the nest box appears to be recently used, or if the
evidence appears to be old, this becomes easier with practice and you can always make unsure if it is not clear of the age.
5. Photo taken. It is always good to have photos to help clarify any information you are unsure of, this column will help you keep take of
photographic evidence.