When Australians first went into lockdown in March, the combination of border closures, lockdowns and the closure of burnt areas from last summer’s bushfires meant those who would have travelled far and wide to watch their favourite birds, instead stayed home.
Yet, Australians are reporting bird sightings at record rates – they’ve just changed where and how they do it.
In fact, Australian citizen scientists submitted ten times the number of backyard bird surveys to BirdLife Australia’s Birdata app in April compared with the same time last year, according to BirdLife Australia’s Dr Holly Parsons.
But it’s not just a joyful hobby. Australia’s growing fascination with birds is vital for conservation after last summer’s devastating bushfires reduced many habitats to ash.
Birds threatened with extinction
Australia’s native plants and animals are on the slow path to recovery after the devastating fires last summer. In our research that’s soon to be published, we found the fires razed forests, grasslands and woodlands considered habitat for 832 species of native vertebrate fauna. Of these, 45% are birds.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Some birds with the largest areas of burnt habitat are threatened with extinction, such as the southern rufous scrub-bird and the Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoo.
But citizen scientists play an important role in recovery too, in the form of monitoring. This provides important data to inform biodiversity disaster research and management.
Record rates of birdwatching
Birdwatchers have recorded numerous iconic birds affected by the fires while observing COVID-19 restrictions. They’ve been recorded in urban parks and city edges, as well as in gardens and on farms.
In April 2020, survey numbers in BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards program jumped to 2,242 – a tenfold increase from 241 in April 2019.
Similarly, reporting of iconic birds impacted by the recent bushfires has increased.
Between January and June, photos and records of gang-gang cockatoos in the global amateur citizen science app iNaturalist increased by 60% from 2019 to 2020. And the number of different people submitting these records doubled from 26 in 2019 to 53 in 2020.
What’s more, reporting of gang-gangs almost doubled in birding-focused apps, such as Birdlife Australia’s Birdata, which recently added a bushfire assessment tool .
The huge rise in birdwatching at home has even given rise to new hashtags you can follow, such as #BirdingatHome on Twitter, and #CuppaWithTheBirds on Instagram.
A gang-gang effort: why we’re desperate for citizen scientists
The increased reporting rates of fire-affected birds is good news, as it means many birds are surviving despite losing their home. But they’re not out of the woods yet.
Their presence in marginal habitats within and at the edge of urban and severely burnt areas puts them more at risk. This includes threats from domestic cat and dog predation, starvation due to inadequate food supply, and stress-induced nest failure.
That’s why consolidating positive behaviour change, such as the rise in public engagement with birdwatching and reporting, is so important.
For example, improved knowledge about where birds go after fire destroys their preferred habitat will help conservation groups and state governments prioritise locations for recovery efforts. Such efforts include control of invasive predators, supplementary feeding and installation of nest boxes.
Athena Georgiou/Birdlife Photography
Better understanding of how bushfire-affected birds use urban and peri-urban habitats will help governments with long-term planning that identifies and protects critical refuges from being cleared or degraded.
And new data on where birds retreat to after fires is invaluable for helping us understand and plan for future bushfire emergencies.
So what can you do to help?
If you have submitted a bird sighting or survey during lockdown, keep at it! If you have never done a bird survey before, but you see one of the priority birds earmarked for special recovery efforts, please report them.
There are several tools available to the public for reporting and learning about birds.
iNaturalist asks you to share a photo or video or sound recording, and a community of experts identifies it for you.
BirdLife’s Birds in Backyards program includes a “Bird Finder” tool to help novice birders identify that bird sitting on the back verandah. Once you’ve figured out what you’re seeing, you can log your bird sightings to help out research and management.
Bowerbirdaus/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA
Finally, if there are fire-affected birds, such as lyrebirds and gang-gang cockatoos, in your area, it’s especially important to keep domestic dogs and cats indoors, and encourage neighbours to do the same. Report fox sightings to your local council.
By ensuring their homes are safe and by building a better bank of knowledge about where they seek refuge in times of need, we can all help Australia’s unique wildlife.
About the Authors
Ayesha Tulloch, DECRA Research Fellow, University of Sydney; April Reside, Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland; Georgia Garrard, Senior Research Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, RMIT University; Michelle Ward, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland, and Monica Awasthy, Visiting Research Scientist, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University
The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall
by Mark W. Moffett
If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them. Available On Amazon
Environment: The Science Behind the Stories
by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon
Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living
by Ken Kroes
Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon
From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.