Australia’s bushfires: An ‘unprecedented’ wildlife emergency

A Glossy Black Cockatoo in flight in New South Wales, Australia. It’s one of the hundreds of bird species impacted by recent fires. Photo by Kristian Bell/Shutterstock

The record-breaking bushfires in Australia have likely killed more than 1 billion animals, recent news stories report. Fires are still burning, so it’s too soon to know the impact on the continent’s birds, but experts at the conservation group BirdLife Australia are expressing considerable concern for species with small ranges and small pre-fire-season populations.

“Many species have lost important breeding and feeding habitat and now face starvation,” the group says in a statement posted today. “The scale of the wildlife emergency is unprecedented.”

The statement mentions Regent Honeyeater, Eastern Bristlebird, and Glossy Black Cockatoo as birds of particular concern.

“As soon as it is safe to do so, we’ll be doing assessments of fire affected areas for our threatened species,” says BirdLife Australia. “We will be evaluating impacts on Endangered species such as the Eastern Bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus), which had at least three key areas of habitat hit by fires in south-east Queensland and northern NSW late last year. We also know fires have impacted important breeding habitat for the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia, Critically Endangered), of which there are likely to be fewer than 250 birds in the wild.”

Regent Honeyeater, a critically endangered species. Photo by Agami Photo Agency/Shutterstock

Paul Sullivan, the group’s CEO, said in a message to supporters: “We also know fires have been [burning] through parts of the Capertee Valley and other known Regent Honeyeater breeding sites, but we won’t know how bad it is until we can get out there. And these are just two of hundreds of bird species from across the country that have been impacted by catastrophic fires.”

Glossy Black Cockatoo, for example, is a striking species and a resident of subtropical forests found mostly in eastern Australia. A small endangered population also occurs off the southern coast on Kangaroo Island. No less than 420,000 acres — about a third of the island — have burned as of Monday, raising fears for the cockatoo as well as the island’s koalas and other wildlife.

Predictions proved right

“While unprecedented, these fires were predicted,” the BirdLife Austraulia statement adds. “In 2008, the Governments of Australia’s Federation commissioned a report by Professor Ross Garnaut to examine the impacts of climate change on Australia. The Garnaut report predicted that Australia’s bushfire seasons would progressively lengthen and generally be more intense, and that the impacts would be observable by 2020. The predictions of Garnaut and many other climate scientists have proved right.”

Donate to BirdLife Australia’s emergency appeal here

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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