Above: Glossy black cockatoos are native to Kangaroo Island, where half their habitat and that of 15 other species has been lost due to bushfires © Shutterstock.com/Jayden Gunn

 

DEVASTATING HABITAT LOSS caused by the recent Australian bushfires has hit bird life hard, with more than half the habitat of 19 species heavily impacted, and 58 species losing more than a third.

Daunting figures are emerging from the flames. “As of 2019 we had 134 nationally threatened birds. That number is likely to rise dramatically once we’ve completed these assessments,” said BirdLife Australia’s head of research, James O’Connor.

He continued: “The number of threatened Australian birds may rise by over 25 per cent in a matter of months. It’s staggering and tragic.”

Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, was an ecological wonderland; now 16 species endemic to the island including the glossy black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) are believed to have lost more than half their habitat, while the southern emu-wren (Stipiturus malachurus) has lost more than 80 per cent and may now be Critically Endangered.

On the mainland, northern and central superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) have also lost more than half of their habitat, which is wet forest. Before the fires, this was thought to be a safe environment for these, then, relatively common birds.

“We never expected these wet forest birds to be so severely impacted,” said Mr O’Connor, “but climate change had dried everything out so much.”

Particularly worrying are the consequences for birds that were already under threat, such as the Critically Endangered regent honey­eater (Anthochaera phrygia).

Mr O’Connor said: “The next steps are to get people out there to see what is left, find the refuges fire has spared, and start working to protect them. These birds are going to need a lot of help on the ground, whether that be translocating birds, providing emergency food resources, or working with fire managers to improve protection from future fires.”

He said that concerted effort and government investment were needed and that new nature laws were essential to protect remaining habitat effectively.

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