Dubbo's Taronga Western Plains Zoo will play a key role in efforts to save one of Australia's most endangered birds.
Regent honeyeaters have moved into purpose-built habitat this week, raising hopes for the future of the species.
The zoo has started a conservation breeding program for the critically endangered species, to expand on two decades of recovery efforts by Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
In a milestone for the project, four pairs of regent honeyeaters moved into their new digs at Dubbo.
Zoo team members told of the expanded program being crucial to securing a future for the species.
It increased capacity to breed more regent honeyeaters and help supplement and boost wild populations, keeper Andrew Elphinstone said.
"They're a nomadic bird that's range extended right across the woodlands system of eastern Australia and in the past couple of decades they've been in drastic decline because of habitat loss in those systems," Mr Elphinstone said.
"Taronga is expanding our breed-for-release program to Taronga Western Plains so we can increase the capacity of birds that we're putting back into the wild, to boost those wild populations."
In a recent report card, the National Recovery Plan for the Regent Honeyeater was highlighted as a success, particularly for its breed-for-release program and for slowing the rate of decline of wild populations, Mr Elphinstone said.
But he cautioned there was a long way to go.
"While we need to celebrate these small wins, it's sort of a bittersweet milestone that slowing the rate of decline is a success when we actually want that population in the world to be growing," he said.
"Expanding our breed-for-release [work] and putting more birds back out into the wild is part of the solution, but we also need to protect and maintain good habitat for the birds in the wild."
The pairs were settling in well, keeper Kara Stevens said. The welcome sound of babies chirping is not expected this season.
"We are pretty much making sure they are settling in first, and then we are hoping that we will kick off our breeding season next year in 2020," Ms Stevens said.
It's a rewarding program for the keeper.
"I personally feel it's extremely exciting," Ms Stevens said.
"To be able to contribute to the research, conservation and release of these birds into the wild is a big highlight for me and has been one of my main career goals since starting in zookeeping.
"So to come on with this amazing team for this research program and these particular birds is an exciting time for me."