Eastern Bristlebird

Eastern Bristlebird
Dasyornis brachypterus
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Pardalotidae
Sub Family: Dasyornithinae
World: Endangered IUCN Red List
Australia: Endangered EPBC Act  Listed
Victoria: Endangered Advisory List
FFG: Listed 
Victoria: FFG Action Statement 89
Australia: National Recovery Plan
Eastern Bristlebird close Image Tony Mitchell
Eastern Bristlebird Image: T. Mitchell

The Eastern Bristlebird is a small ground dwelling bird found only in Australia. It is rarely seen flying in the open, preferring a dense ground layer of vegetation in which to seek shelter and feed. It has two small bristles near the base of its bill.   


There are three related species of Bristlebird in the genus Dasyornis endemic to Australia; 

  • Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus - (far eastern Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland).
  • Rufous Bristlebird Dasyornis broadbenti - (Anglesea to south-east South Australia).
  • Western Bristlebird Dasyornis longirostris (Western Australia).

The Eastern Bristlebird is slightly smaller than the introduced Blackbird. It is described as being a small, well-camouflaged, ground-dwelling bird. It is dark cinnamon-brown above, with pale colouring around the eyes and base of the bill, an off-white chin and throat, and a rufous-brown panel on each wing. It is greyish-brown below, with an off-white centre to the belly. It has red to red-brown irises, an off-white to pinkish-white gape, and pinkish-brown legs and feet (Higgins and Peter 2002).

Eastern Bristlebird Image: tony Mitchell
Eastern Bristlebird being handled during emergency relocation program from bushfire area near Mallacoota. Image: T. Mitchell.



Across its range in south-eastern Australia, the Eastern Bristlebird has contracted to four isolated populations within three main regions;

  • Northern population - south-eastern Queensland/north-eastern NSW.
  • Central populations - Illawarra and Jervis Bay regions of eastern NSW.
  • Southern population - New South Wales / Victorian border coastal region.

Source: OEH 2012.

Eastern Bristlebird Victorian distribution
All known historic records of Eastern Bristlebird in Victoria. Source: VBA 2020.


Eastern Bristlebird since 2010

Eastern Bristlebird records 2010 - 2018. Source VVB 2020. 

Between 2010 to 2020 the Victorian population has contracted to one location at Howe Flat near Mallacoota.

Ecology & Habitat

The Eastern Bristlebird inhabits low, dense, ground or understorey vegetation. In Victoria, its geographic distribution is in the far eastern section of Croajingolong National Park, particularly in Riparian Scrub Complex and  Wet Heathland EVCs dominated by Melaleucas, Tea-trees and other heath species with a sedge understorey.

Life span/breeding

The Eastern Bristlebird can live for 4-6 years, it is regarded as a ground nesting species using tussocks and sedges which provides limited protection from introduced predators. Breeding usually takes place from August to February.


The Eastern Bristlebird is predominately a ground feeding bird, diet consists mainly on invertebrates found in the soil, leaf litter and around logs and branches which support a diverse range of invertebrates e.g. worms, and a variety of insects. It is also known to feed on seeds and small fruits of grasses and other plants.


The average overlapping home ranges of pairs is estimated to be about 10 hectares (Baker 2001). At Howe Flat, a population density of 1.5-2 birds/10ha were recorded (Bramwell 2008).

Source: (OEH 2012).

Population Status

In 2012, the total national population of the Eastern Bristlebird was estimated to be approximately 2500 birds. In Victoria, surveys between 1997-2002 estimated only 120-140 birds in suitable habitat in the Howe Flat area of Croajingalong National Park (Bramwell 2008). New surveys will be required to determine the Victorian population after the devastating 2020 bushfires in East Gippsland.



Loss or fragmentation of suitable habitat

Given the Victorian population is within the Croajingolong National Park its habitat is reasonably secure except for detrimental fire events.

Fire events

The National Recovery Plan 2012 states ‘The Southern population is vulnerable to local extinction because of its small size and the high likelihood of widespread catastrophic fire’. The Victorian Flora & Fauna Guarantee Scientific Committee (SAC 1994) raised the possibility of extinction due to catastrophic fire.


Introduced feral predators such as cats, foxes, rats, dogs and pigs are considered to have a high impact on populations and significantly more impact than native predators e.g. raptors in the natural ecosystem. 

Increased predation after fire events has been raised as an issue as it allows easier access for feral animals to impact on Bristlebirds due to loss of ground cover/loss of shelter.


As the populations of Eastern Bristlebirds have contracted into discrete genetic units with low numbers in areas such as Howe Flat, Victoria,  the issue of genetic viability comes into question.

A full description of threats is elaborated in the National Recovery Plan 2012.

Climate change

With the impacts of a changing climate now apparent in Victoria in terms of an increase of up to 1.40   higher than normal maximum temperatures in occurring since 1998 and decreased rainfall in south-eastern Australia, Eastern Bristlebird habitat is likely to be degraded. For the Bristlebird, climate change can impact on increased risk of fires, changes in vegetation, reduced food source and possible reduction in reproductive success. Given the low-lying nature of the habitat at Howe Flat (0-5m), rising sea levels also present a threat to the species.

Climate change data (BOM 2020).

Conservation & Management

These objectives and implementation measures are further detailed in the National Recovery Plan 2012.

OBJECTIVE 1: Maintain and improve the condition and extent (carrying capacity) of Eastern Bristlebird habitat and minimise known or likely threats for all populations, with particular emphasis on fire prescriptions, minimising habitat fragmentation and control of: feral predators, exotic herbivores, overgrazing and weeds.

OBJECTIVE 2: Undertake survey, monitoring and mapping to improve knowledge of all Eastern Bristlebird populations. Population dynamics and National Recovery Plan for Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus Page 34 of 74 habitat condition will be monitored in each population. Methods including survey effort and frequency will be reviewed and standardised and will be subject to ongoing review according to census results or special circumstances such as wildfire. Potential habitat will be surveyed to potentially locate new colonies in the northern and southern populations, and to estimate more accurately the population size for all populations.

OBJECTIVE 3: Enhance/augment northern and southern populations, building towards viable populations as determined by population viability analysis.

OBJECTIVE 4: Conduct research to increase knowledge of ecology, threats and habitat management requirements of the Eastern Bristlebird.

OBJECTIVE 5: Increase community awareness, understanding and involvement in the Eastern Bristlebird recovery effort, particularly on private land. Improve communication between working groups and stakeholders including Australian and State Government agencies, CMAs and other NRM bodies, the Aboriginal community, landholders, land managers, rural fire services and interest groups.

OBJECTIVE 6: Effectively organise and administer the recovery effort to ensure that recovery plan objectives are met.

Projects & Partnerships

Eastern Bristlebird emergency rescue mission February 2020, Eastern Victoria

A mission to save the last known population of Eastern Bristlebirds in Victoria was planned and executed by DELWP, Parks Victoria and Zoos Victoria during the first week of February 2020.

Mallacoota fire 2020

Catastrophic fires burning in East Gippsland during January/February 2020 threatened the last population of Eastern Bristlebirds in Victoria. Image courtesy T. Mitchell.

The objective of the rescue plan was to capture and house up to 20 Eastern Bristlebirds at Zoos Victoria as an insurance against the threat of the bushfire emergency with the intention of returning the Bristlebirds back to their natural habitat when it is safe to do so.

The urgent need to act was in response to ongoing fire in the immediate area and knowledge that this population of birds was only one of four populations of the Eastern Bristlebird, the others being in New South Wales and Queensland. Saving this population was regarded a crucial to maintaining the bird’s genetic diversity and therefore its continued survival.


Eastern Bristlebird being relocated by Dr Rohan Clarke Image: T Mitchell

Dr Rohan Clarke - Monash University, holds an Eastern Bristlebird saved from fires and given a chance to reinvigorate the population upon release when it is safe to do so. Image: T. Mitchell.


Eastern Bristlebird holding area

Processing in the field - the team of experts involved in capturing and transporting the Eastern Bristlebirds comprised DELWP, Parks Victoria, Zoos Victoria, Currumbin Sanctuary, Fisheries Victoria and Monash and Wollongong universities. Image: T. Mitchell.


Eastern Bristlebird rescue

Due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area due to fires a Singapore Defence Force Chinook helicopter was used to transport the team of experts to Howe Flat. The captured birds were transported to Melbourne Zoo in daily fixed-wing flights from Mallacoota. Image: T. Mitchell.


See also: January 2020 bushfires and biodiversity East Gippsland and North East Victoria

wildlife.vic.gov.au  Expert team fly in to rescue threatened bird from bushfires 6 February 2020

References & Links

Baker, J. (2001) Population density and home range estimates for the Eastern Bristlebird at Jervis Bay, south-eastern Australia. Corella 25:62-67.

BOM (2020) Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Rainfall anomaly, Temperature anomaly.

Bramwell, M.D. (2008) The Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus in East Gippsland, Victoria, 1997–2002. Australian Field Ornithology 25: 2–11.

FFG (1999) Flora & Fauna Guarantee Act - Action Statement No. 89 Department of Sustainability & Environment (now Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Victoria).

Higgins, P.J. and Peter, J.M. (eds.) (2002), Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds Volume 6: Pardalotes to Shrike-thrushes. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 95-107.

IUCN (2020) BirdLife International 2016. Dasyornis brachypterus . e.T22704507A93972785.The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:  Downloaded on 11 February 2020.

OEH (2012) National Recovery Plan for Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus. Office of Environment and Heritage, Department of Premier and Cabinet (NSW), Sydney.

SAC (1994) Final recommendation on a nomination for listing: Dasyornis brachypterus Eastern Bristlebird (Nomination 284). Scientific Advisory Committee, Flora and Fauna Guarantee. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, Victoria.

More Information

Eastern Bristlebird - Species profile & threats database, Australian Government 

Eastern Bristlebird  - Office of Environment & Heritage, New South Wales

Eastern Bristlebird - Department of Environment & Science, Queensland

See also: Rufous Bristlebird

Please contribute information regarding Eastern Bristlebird in Victoria - observations, images or projects.  Contact SWIFFT



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