The rarer Albert’s lyrebird, which lives in south-east Queensland and north-east NSW, has had fires in about 36 per cent of its known habitat.
Sean Dooley, the Birdlife Australia public affairs manager, said Superb Lyrebirds were resilient, but that the common species could soon become threatened if drought and fires continue.
“If we continue to see a drying out of their habitats, it is likely that we will face a scenario in the not too distant future that further fires will see lyrebird populations reduced to the point where they are a threatened species,” Mr Dooley said.
Forest owls could face a tougher recovery.
The Birdlife Australia analysis found 49 per cent of southern masked owl habitat has burnt this fire season, while the greater sooty owl has lost 43 per cent.
The powerful owl, despite also living in leafy city suburbs, has had one-third of its habitat in the line of fire.
Alex Maisey, a PhD candidate at La Trobe University department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, said lyrebirds generally survive the fire front but struggle to survive once it has passed.
“They do really surprisingly well in surviving a fire front. They’ll go down wombat holes, they’ll shelter in creeks,” Mr Maisey said.
“There’s these remarkable stories of, where people have actually been sheltering under wet blankets in creeks and lyrebirds have pushed in under them.
“The trouble is when they come out and they’re looking for food and that’s when a lot of animals have it really hard.”
The insects they eat live in the topsoil and easily burn when fire tears through the leaf litter. Mr Maisey added that forest regrowth results in a thick forest floor which can hinder the lyrebird.
“Lyrebirds just can’t fight their way through it, it’s too thick.
“Even low-intensity fires can make habitat unsuitable for lyrebirds. So fires on this scale and this intensity are likely to be very problematic.”
Bushfires also create perfect conditions for predators like eagles and hawks, who have a better view of the forest floor after the canopy has burnt out.
Feral predators like foxes and cats also prey on native animals after a fire, when they are weak.
“So you end up with a feedback loop of having more fire in the landscape, fewer lyrebirds breaking down the fuel, which is in turn going to make fires worse,” Mr Maisey said.
Rachel is a breaking news reporter for The Age.