The impact of climate change on Bristlebirds

Subject: The impact of climate change on Bristlebirds
From: Chris Corben <>
Date: Thu, 2 Jan 2020 10:14:27 -0600
It is very worrying and we are certainly going to see a lot of change which will be hard for those of us who have grown up through different times.

But just to try and make things seem a little less bleak, it isn't so simple to just assume this will be catastrophic to the Bristlebirds. It is true that fire has often been blamed for the decline of Bristlebirds in the north of their range, and that may well be true in some cases or even in most. But I am not sure it is so simple.

The Bristlebirds in the Conondales are sadly, probably extinct. But while fire was highlighted as a major problem for them, I watched them over several years and I have my doubts. This was the most northerly site ever known for any Bristlebird, and after its discovery, I spent a lot of time searching for them in other parts of the Conondales and in many other areas in all directions, where I thought there was any chance they could exist. I had no success.

In the tiny area of the Conondales in which they were found (3 or 4 pairs, perhaps?), their habitat was burnt every year by the local grazier, who was allowed to run his cattle there and burnt it to improve feed. These were slow fires not catastrophic events, but the dynamics I found with the Bristlebirds were very interesting. Their habitat was almost entirely destroyed every time this happened. By habitat, I mean the native Sorghum in which they lived. Tiny patches would survive, which is why there were older clumps of Sorghum here and there, but nearly all of it was reduced to ash.

After a fire, the Bristlebirds didn't live in the remaining bits of Sorghum, but moved into the nearby rainforest. About a month later, the Sorghum would again be thick enough and they would move back into it, even though it was mostly short and very different from what it would look like in a year's time.

There are many ways you could view this, but one thing I saw was that every time there was a fire, areas that it missed grew back up with rainforest plants. So in one view at least, it seemed that the fire, illegal and un-natural as it was, may have been playing an important role in maintaining the grassland and protecting it from the encroaching rainforest.

These Bristlebirds were at the extreme northern end of their known range, and even back in the late 80's, we understood that they, like many other species, would be under threat from global warming.

We are certainly in a time of change, and maybe SE Qld will end up in the Mulga belt. I'd just like to encourage people to look in the burned areas and see what's there and how they change. It's an opportunity as well as a disaster.

On 1/1/2020 8:41 PM, Laurie Knight wrote:
Seasons greetings folks.

On two occasions last year, I heard the melodic tones of an Eastern Bristlebird 
calling from the montane heath near one of the summits of Mt Barney [on the 
McPherson Range in SEQ and one of the best bushwalking locations in Australia]. 
 This was a positive note given the tenuous status of EBBs in SEQ.

Mt Barney NP is also home to Alberts Lyrebirds, Rufous Bristlebirds and Glossy 
Black Cockatoos.

Sadly 2019 was exceptionally hot and dry - the average annual rainfall at the 
nearby BoM Carneys Creek station is 1030 mm.  The 2019 total was 423 mm, the 
lowest on record.  [My rain gauge in Brisbane recorded a similarly dismal 409 

As was the case in many scleroplyll regions around Australia, a fire broke out 
on the western flank of Mt Ballow in November and over a number of weeks burnt 
its way through most the Barney National Park.  One of the park rangers told me 
that the fire was unprecedented, the firebreaks failed, and that they were 
losing many old trees on a daily basis.  The area where I had heard the 
bristlebirds had been comprehensively crisped.  Time will tell if they survived.

Similarly, there were extensive fires along the nearby Main Range and Lamington 
national parks [most of you would have read about the fire that burnt Binna 
Burra], as well as other noted bristlebird habitats in NSW and Victoria [the 
south coast of NSW from Wollongong to Lakes Entrance in Victoria].

Time after time the term used to describe the fires around Australia is 
unprecedented.  In short, the climate change signal [heat and aridity] is clear 
and unmistakable.  Even Blind Freddy can smell it.

As I see it, the biggest threat to the survival of all three bristlebird species 
isn’t directly increased temperatures and decreased rainfall, but the 
associated increased frequency of widespread severe bushfire conditions.  The outlook 
for bristlebirds and other species living in fire prone areas is not good.

Regards, Laurie.
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Chris Corben.

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