Native animals

Photo closeup of the Eltham Copper Butterfly. The butterfly has orange and brown wings and is sitting on a leaf.

Nillumbik supports a high diversity of animal (fauna) species which occupy various habitats.

Approximately 377 indigenous fauna species have been recorded within the Shire.

Nillumbik’s fauna ranges from the more common species that may be seen around residential areas such as the Brush-tailed Possum and Rainbow Lorikeet to the rarely seen inhabitants of the forest such as the Common Dunnart, Lace Monitor and Brush-tailed Phascogale.

Nillumbik supports a high proportion of threatened fauna species, with approximately 60 species listed as threatened in Victoria and 17 listed as threatened in Australia.

This includes an important population of Brush-tailed Phascogale as well as some of the only populations of Eltham Copper Butterfly (pictured).

The Shire supports resident populations of several threatened bird species such as Powerful Owl and Barking Owl and the occasional visit by threatened migratory birds such as the Lewin's Rail, Swift Parrot and Regent Honeyeater. 

Find out more about threatened fauna species below, or take part in one of our environmental activities.

Threatened animal species

Southern Toadlet (Threatened, Vulnerable)


The Southern Toadlet (Pseudophryne semimarmorata) has an olive to dark brown body covered with numerous small warts above and a black and white marbled appearance around the belly. The Southern Toadlet is found in damp habitats including woodlands, dry forests, shrubland, grassland and drainage lines. They are usually located in wet areas under rocks, logs or leaf litter.

The Southern Toadlet is located in southern Victoria, eastern Tasmania and south-east of South Australia. In Nillumbik Shire the species has been previously found in numerous locations. However, recently it has not been recorded at former sites and it appears to have drastically declined due to a number of threatening processes, including the drought. Recent records include small populations at three sites in Eltham South, along a gully in Bunjil Reserve and in gullies within the southern part Kinglake National Park.

This species is listed as vulnerable in Victoria where major threats to this toadlet appears to be associated with loss of suitable habitat due to the clearing of bushland, weed invasion, pollution of streams and wetlands and prolonged drought and drying of breeding sites. Bushfires are also a major concern for the Southern Toadlet within the Nillumbik Shire as they cause significant habitat loss.

Brush-tailed Phascogale (Threatened, Vulnerable)


The Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) is a carnivorous marsupial that is distinguished by its black bushy tail. The small mammal has a grey body and relatively large ears. The Brush-tailed Phascogale lives in low density populations within larger bushland areas. They prefer dry forests which have a relatively open understorey. They are dependent on tree hollows for breeding and shelter, particularly from predators, and prefer rough-barked tree species which are easier to climb and provide their food source of insects, spiders and occasionally nectar.

The Brush-tailed Phascogale has now been reduced to small populations which occur in the north and west of Melbourne and north of the Great Dividing Range in the Box-Ironbark region. Nillumbik Shire contains a large concentration of the species in Strathewen, St Andrews, Christmas Hills, Watsons Creek and Kangaroo Ground. The Brush-tailed Phascogale can also be found in smaller populations in Eltham, Arthurs Creek, Cottles Bridge and North Warrandyte.

The Brush-tailed Phascogale is listed under The Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and is considered Vulnerable in Victoria. Numbers of this vulnerable species have decreased significantly due to loss of habitat and clearing of bushland areas, predation by foxes and cats, and loss of hollow bearing trees. Fragmentation and loss of habitat contributes to limiting the breeding opportunities of the species and increasing exposure to predators.

Meet your Neighbour - Brush-tailed Phascogale Fact Sheet(PDF, 794KB)

Powerful Owl (Threatened, Vulnerable)


The Powerful Owl (Ninox strenva) is the largest species of owl in Australia, reaching a height of 55-65cm. It is brown on the head and wings, with a white body that has mottled dark brown v-shaped barring. The eyes are large and orange/yellow. The Powerful Owl prefers drier forest types with large old trees, but can be found in open woodlands as long as they contain mature, live hollow bearing eucalypt trees and plenty of prey species. The Powerful Owl is a nocturnal predator, feeding on possums and gliders.

The Powerful Owl is found throughout south-east and eastern Australia. In Nillumbik Shire the Powerful Owl has been recorded in numerous locations. The breeding sites in the past have been located in Smiths Gully, Eltham, North Warrandyte, Eltham South, along Plenty River in Plenty, Bend of Islands, One Tree Hill Conservation Reserve and in the upper Diamond and Arthurs Creek.

The Powerful Owl is listed as Vulnerable in Victoria and is listed as threatened under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. One of the major threats of the Powerful Owl is reduction of suitable large hollow eucalypts which are essential for breeding and impacts directly on the availability of nests sites. Foxes and cats are also known to predate on young chicks. Processes such as fire and habitat clearing can lead to changes in the forest structure and this can reduce the availability of food and roosting and breeding sites.

Common Dunnart (Threatened, Vulnerable)


The Common Dunnart (Sminthopsis murina) is a small carnivorous marsupial which is mouse-grey above whilst mostly whitish-grey below.  They have large rounded ears and eyes and have a thin tail. Common Dunnarts prefer dry forests predominately with an open mid storey and ground layer dominated by tussock grasses. In Nillumbik the Common Dunnart prefers to inhabit dry bushland dominated by Red Stringbark and Long-leaf Box with Red-anther Wallaby Grass as the ground layer. The presence of logs and rock are very important as they provide habitat for this species. They feed on a wide range of insects, including beetles, roaches, cricket larvae and spiders.

Populations of Common Dunnart are scattered throughout drier parts of the State. Previously in Nillumbik, from 1980’s to 1990’s, the species had been recorded at multiple sites including Cottles Bridge, Christmas Hills, St Helena, Kangaroo Grounds and Yarrambat. However, recently the Common Dunnart has only been recently recorded in Christmas Hills.

There is little known about the abundance and population dynamics of this species. But it is understood that population numbers have dropped significantly in the past 20-30 years in Victoria. The declining population is likely due to clearing and a reduction in habitat, predation by foxes and cats and inappropriate fire regimes. Parks Victoria has coordinated a management program for the species found at Christmas Hills since 2005.

Spot-tailed Quoll (Threatened, Vulnerable)


The Spot-tail Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus maculatus), also known as a Tiger Quoll, is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupials in Australia. They have reddish brown to dark chocolate brown fur with white spots around the body and tail. This marsupial can weigh up to four kilos.

The Spotted-tailed Quoll can be found near the coasts of NSW, VIC, Southern QLD, small parts of SA, all of TAS and a small population is said to be found in northern coastal regions in Queensland. Their preferred habitats are rainforests, wet and dry sclerophyll forests, coastal heath and scrub. They require forests with suitable den sites such as hollows, hollow logs, rock crevices, caves and burrows. They have a large home range of 580ha-2200ha and prefer to feed on a range of small to medium sized mammals including gliders, possums and rabbits, as well as birds and insects and dead animals (carrion).

This species is listed as Endangered in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) 1999, and is endangered in Victoria and is listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.  Populations are in decline due to a number of threats including habitat loss, predation and competition caused by foxes, wild dogs and cats and land clearing. Other threats to the Spotted-tailed Quoll include habitat fragmentation, disease, inbreeding, inappropriate fire regimes and poisoning from 1080 baits.

Eltham Copper Butterfly (Threatened, Vulnerable)


The area around Eltham supports the largest of the few remaining populations of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) in Victoria.

It was first discovered around Eltham in 1938 and was thought to have become extinct around the 1950’s.

Following the rediscovery of the butterfly in the Eltham area in 1987, the ECB was listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988) in May 1991. 

Biology and distribution

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small and attractive butterfly with bright copper colouring on the tops of its wings visible during the summer flight season.

  • It is an unusual species due to its close symbiotic association with a group of ants from the genus Notoncus and the shrub Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa). 
  • Adult butterflies lay their eggs on the roots and stems of Sweet Bursaria. Once the eggs hatch, the ants guard the caterpillars (providing protection from predators) ushering the larvae to and from the ant nest at the base of the shrub, to feed on the Sweet Bursaria leaves at night.  In return the ants feed on the sugar secretions exuded from the body of the caterpillar.
  • The butterfly has a preference for open flight paths and receiving direct sunlight; vegetation with an open middle and under storey.

Butterfly locations

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is known only to occur in Victoria and only recorded at a few geographically separate locations including:

  • Ten sites in the Eltham-Greensborough area
  • Three separate small populations in the Kiata-Salisbury area in the Wimmera.
  • Three sites in the Bendigo region in rural Victoria.
  • Small populations at two sites at Castlemaine in rural Victoria

In the Eltham area, Nillumbik Shire Council own and manage six bushland reserves for the conservation of the Eltham Copper Butterfly, these include:

Parks Victoria owns and manages the Pauline Toner Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve in Eltham, and populations of the Eltham Copper Butterfly occur on at least two known private properties in the Eltham area.

Decline of the Butterfly

The Eltham Copper Butterfly was listed as a threatened taxon in Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 in 1991. 

It is now classified as Endangered under the DSE Advisory List of Threatened Invertebrate Fauna in Victoria 2009. 

Major causes of the decline

  • The destruction and loss of habitat
  • Urbanisation and associated human activity such as weed invasion, rubbish dumping, trampling, slashing and clearing of vegetation and wildfires. 
  • Agricultural production

Remaining populations in the Eltham area are disparate and occur in small reserves across the urban landscape. 

Annual Eltham Butterfly counts

  • Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly in partnership with Nillumbik Shire Council and the Eltham Copper Butterfly Working Group have been undertaking annual caterpillar and adult butterfly counts since 1993
  • Larval counts are useful and can be potentially used as an early indicator of population development and general population health
  • The numbers fluctuate each year. Compared to the 2017 spring survey, the 2018 survey found that larvae populations and distribution have mostly increased in number and area
  • The 2018 survey found all of the reserves managed by Council (Western Colony, Eastern Colony, Pitt Street Reserve and Laleham Court Reserve) and Parks Victoria (Pauline Toner) continue to respond well to the ongoing management program.

The annual Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) caterpillar count is on again throughout October and will be taking place at various ECB bushland reserves in Eltham.

Community members are welcome to join in for the opportunity to learn about the ecology of the ECB and work in small groups searching bushes to count the caterpillar and record their locations.

Bookings: registration is required. Contact John Harris,

The conservation effort

The conservation effort of the Eltham Copper Butterfly populations has a long history.

Following it’s rediscovery in 1987 and in the face of the then proposed urban development on Diosma Road in Eltham, the local community successfully lobbied and fundraised for the reservation of the

  • Western and Eastern Eltham Copper Butterfly colonies and
  • Pauline Toner Reserve, now owned by Parks Victoria

Early conservation work 

Early work undertaken by the local community to protect the Eltham Copper Butterfly and its habitat is embedded in the social, cultural and natural heritage and identity of the Eltham community.

Over the past twenty-five years there have been sustained investments of time and money to maintain and conserve the populations and supporting eco-system.

This has been a cooperative effort of land managers, Friends Groups, and the Eltham Copper Butterfly Working Group.

In 2010 with support from Nillumbik Shire Council the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly, the Friends of Diosma Road and the Friends of Woodridge Linear Reserve received a joint community grant from the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority to develop and implement a community engagement program with the primary aim of renewing local community support for the conservation of the butterfly and its habitat:

Through this funding an extensive community engagement program was developed and implemented to increase awareness and appreciation of the conservation of the Eltham Copper Butterfly within the local Eltham community.

The program also included capacity building activities specifically developed to benefit the three friends of groups involved in the project. 

In addition, weed infestations and garden encroachments into the reserves were identified and addressed as a main threat to the habitat of the Eltham Copper Butterfly.

Grant to protect and enhance habitat

In 2012, the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly in partnership with Nillumbik Shire Council, Parks Victoria, the Friends of Diosma Road, the Friends of Woodridge Linear Reserve and Eltham East Primary School received a Communities for Nature grant of $459,000 from the Department of Sustainability and Environment, to protect and enhance the habitat of the Eltham Copper Butterfly. 

Grant objectives

  • Optimise the habitat requirements and conditions of the Eltham Copper Butterfly across the ten sites
  • Support sustainable populations of other rare and threatened species found within the Eltham Copper Butterfly sites as well the Eltham Copper Butterfly itself.
  • Increase the resilience of the Eltham Copper Butterfly sites to weed invasion and other threats.
  • Protect and enhance the ecosystem services (social, economic, cultural and heritage values) provided by the Eltham Copper Butterfly sites
  • Coordinate weed control across property boundaries.
  • Increase community participation and involvement in the protection of the Eltham Copper Butterfly. How can you help?

Interested in the conservation of the butterfly?

Join the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly or contact Wayne Kinrade on 9439 1482 or via email at

You can record your butterfly sightings and assist with the ID of butterflies via this free app, recently launched by Butterfies Australia.

Common wombat


A medium-sized stocky marsupial with bristly grey-brown fur. This solitary marsupial, when not sleeping in one of its burrows, can be seen grazing on grasses and sedges. The Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) prefers to live in densely vegetated locations that have grassy areas nearby.

Changes to the legal requirements for the control of the Common Wombat

The Victorian Government recently revoked the legal instrument that allowed for the lethal control of wombats without a permit in a number of areas in eastern Victoria, including Nillumbik.

These changes provide additional protection to wombats across eastern Victoria where landholders must now apply for an Authority to Control Wildlife (ATCW) under the Wildlife Act 1975 (Wildlife Act) to control wombats, as other landholders in Victoria are already required to do.

Further information about the changes can be found in this fact sheet.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

A large, long-snouted hopping marsupial with grey to greybrown fur. The Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) sleeps under low vegetation for most of the day and then comes out to graze on grasses and shrubs in the evening. This marsupial usually moves with others amongst well-vegetated areas.

This webinar was live on Wednesday 24 June. Join Associate Professor Graeme Coulson, Honorary Principal Fellow and Wildlife Ecologist at University of Melbourne for a webinar on the biology and population dynamics of kangaroos.


Informative kangaroo video courtesy of Manningham Backyard Biodiversity

Short-beaked Echidna


A small, medium sized monotreme with distinctive, sharp spines. The short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) sleeps most of the day and feeds at evening and dawn on termites in amongst the bush. This solitary mammal defends itself by rolling into a spiny ball and digging into the ground.

An informative echidna video courtesy of Manningham's Backyard Biodiversity