How you can help fire-affected birds

Monday, 18 December 2023

  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

How you can help fire-affected birds

Birds are especially vulnerable to fire, so here are some ways you can help your local native birds before, during and after bushfires.

Provide water
Before, during and after fire

Whether you’re close to fires or not, providing a source of safe, clean water is a simple but effective way to help birds in extreme heat and before, during and after bushfire events.

You don’t need to buy a fancy bird bath, either – everyday household items are also a great option. You can use plastic tubs and containers, buckets, hanging pots, upside-down bin lids, kitchen pots and pans, ceramic dishes or even a clam shell pool.

Different species prefer different depths of water, so try a variety of shapes and size so that every bird has a place to drink and bathe.

Top tips: providing water for fire-affected birds

  • Keep it fresh by replacing water daily
  • Keep it clean by scrubbing and disinfecting your bird bath regularly (and rinsing thoroughly)
  • Keep it cool and away from direct sunlight
  • Keep it safe by placing it close to cover and adding a perch
  • Keep pets away where they can’t reach the water.

Find out more about providing water for birds here.

In the middle of the frame, a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo splashes in a bird bath against a background of water droplets with wings outstretched.
A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo enjoying a bird bath. Photo by Alison Langevad

Provide supplementary food
During and after fire

As well as the immediate stress of fleeing from fire, fire-affected birds face destruction of their food sources, shelter and nest sites. If you live near a fire zone, you can provide supplementary food to help birds in the immediate aftermath of a fire. However, it’s also important to be aware of the risks of feeding wild birds and how to avoid harming the same wildlife you want to help.

Top tips: providing food for fire-affected birds

  • Reduce the spread of disease by cleaning feed stations thoroughly, daily.
  • Replace food daily as it can rot, grow mould, introduce or spread disease or infection and attract rats, mice and other predators.
  • Provide different food for different birds on different feeding stations. Avoid bread, mince, honey and sugar – instead, try bird nectar mix, fresh fruit and vegetables, mealworms or other invertebrates and seeds, nuts and grains.
  • Make feed stations safe by placing food close to cover and out of reach of pets and other predators.

Remember: feeding wild birds shouldn’t be a long-term solution and should supplement, not replace, their natural diet. As their habitat recovers, birds will be able to forage for food naturally and you can scale back your feeding efforts.

Find out more about providing supplementary food for wild birds here.

Provide shade
Before, during and after fire

During fire or extreme heat events, you can help your local native birds by providing a cool, safe and shady place for them to shelter and rest and recover. You can help provide relief by using a spray bottle to mist and cool down vegetation, or by adding garden umbrellas or other shade sources to your yard.

If a bird is behaving unusually, it might be trying to cool down. Birds don’t have sweat glands – instead, they cool themselves by opening their beaks and wings. Give fire and heat-affected birds space and allow them to rest. If you can, observe them from a distance to make sure they’re ok.

To the right of the frame, a Brown Thornbill hides among the vegetation.
Brown Thornbill by John McCormick

Helping sick or injured birds
During and after fire

Sadly, most wildlife (including birds) that are in the path of a fire will perish. Those that survive can be disorientated by smoke or strong winds, or injured by the flames, radiant heat or smoke inhalation. Please do not search fire zones for injured birds or other wildlife: trained wildlife rescuers will search the area once it is safe to do so.

Signs of a sick or injured bird include:

  • Unable or reluctant to fly
  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Head tilting
  • Limping
  • Not moving when approached
  • Sitting in an unusual or exposed place, e.g. on the ground or out in the open, or
  • Being attacked by other birds.

To prepare, keep a rescue kit in the boot of your car and in your house or garage with a strong box or crate, towels, gloves, a torch and a pillowcase.

Top tips: what to do if you find a sick or injured bird

  • Make it safe for you and the bird. Injured wildlife can be dangerous, especially when scared or stressed. Ensure the bird isn’t in immediate danger by removing any threats, such as cats and dogs.
  • Handle with care. Using gloves or a towel or blanket, handle the bird gently but firmly and wash your hands after. Do not handle large birds, such as owls and birds of prey – these birds have beaks and claws and must only be handled by trained wildlife rescuers.
  • Place the bird in a well-ventilated box quickly and carefully, and keep it dark and quiet to minimise stress. Birds are often killed by shock before their injuries, so act quickly but carefully.
  • Do not give the bird food or water as this could cause the bird to aspirate (inhale food or liquid into its lungs) or delay any treatment it might need.
  • Contact your local wildlife rescue or vet. If possible, take the bird to a vet immediately, or contact wildlife rescue for advice. Depending on resources, they may be able to collect the bird directly. Do not attempt to rehabilitate wildlife unless you are qualified and licenced to do so.

Find out more about helping sick or injured birds here.

After fire

Conducting post-fire bird surveys helps our scientists and researchers measure the short and long-term impacts of fire on bird populations, and understand how bird populations change, move and recover after

When it is safe to do so, you can help by conducting regular Birdata surveys. These 2ha x 20min surveys can be done from anywhere in Australia, in any habitat and location. This data helps us identify and protect refuges within fire-affected areas, and informs our recovery planning and conservation efforts.

Visit Birdata to find out more and start surveying today.

Before, during and after fire

Donating to organisations on the forefront of fire recovery efforts is an easy way to help fire-affected wildlife and communities.

Find out how you can support BirdLife Australia’s work with threatened and fire-affected bird populations here.

In the top middle of the frame, a Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo is perched on a blackened branch, looking out over a burnt bush landscape.
Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo by Tania-Meuzelaar

Provide habitat
Before and after fire

As well as providing important bird habitat and refuges for wildlife, greener living spaces can help keep urban areas cooler in rising temperatures. It’s possible to create more spaces for wildlife in our towns and cities, while minimizing the fire risk to your property.

Top tips: gardening in a bushfire-prone area

  • Avoid creating a ladder of vegetation from ground to canopy.
  • Leave gaps between clumps of shrubs and vegetation (approximately 5 metres).
  • Leave a few metres distance between your house and nearby shrubs and trees, and prune or remove overhanging branches.
  • Incorporate low fuel areas in your garden, such as paths, vegetable patches and paved or gravelled areas.
  • Use inorganic mulch for your garden, or mulch with larger particles.
  • Choose less flammable plant types. For example, smooth-barked trees are less flammable than trees with stringy, fibrous or ribbon bark.
  • Plant local wherever possible. Contact your council to see if they have a list of plants native to your region, and talk to nursery staff about the best plants for your location and position.

Note: water restrictions and soaring temperatures means summer isn’t a great time for planting. Instead, use this time to research suitable plants for your garden and map out the best locations for them.

Find out more ways to make your garden bird-friendly here.