Fynbos Fires and their Consequences for Birds

 

Positive benefits of fynbos fires are short-term food opportunities for some species

Raptors are often attracted to fire and its charred results, moving in from adjacent habitats. This is particularly evident where predatory birds may flush out injured birds and animals or find other carrion. Jackal Buzzards, Steppe Buzzards and Spotted Eagle Owls are known to visit burnt areas immediately after smoke dissipates. After a relatively short time they move on.

Other species which may take advantage of the aftermath of fynbos fires

The Fork Tailed Drongo, Fiscal Flycatcher, Fiscal Shrike and Cape Grassbird are known to take up the debris of insects, arthropods and the seeds of various plants such as P. falcifolia and L. eucalyptifolium which are exposed about 2 weeks post fire.

Genetic Diversity 

Nectivores such as the Cape Sugarbird, Orange Breasted Sunbird and Cape Bulbul will immediately move away to neighbouring areas, however, this may be advantageous to genetic diversity as they colonise with other groups, returning only once the area has recovered. They are significant pollinators, playing a vital role in continuing fynbos survival.

Negatives are longer-term!!!!!

Fynbos Recovery Periods or seasons required for the fynbos habitat to recover vary. Usually, fire patterns are such that most fynbos bird species are able to simply re-locate temporarily to unaffected areas of similar habitat, at least until the affected areas recover. Some fynbos species take longer to recover, hence food sources can be limited. Neighbouring suburban gardens often become a refuge for the nectivores immediately post fire.

Frequency of fire impacts on the recovery of certain fynbos plant species, which in turn impacts on suitable nesting sites, for example the upper branches of  Protea Neriifolia, preferred by the Orange Breasted Sunbird. This  plant species is slow maturing, taking about 6 years to reach maturity, and produce fruit. If the fruit is burnt before ripening, no seeds will be dispersed! Densely concentrated growth of Leucodendron salignum indicates where an area has been burnt too frequently, compromising non-sprouting fynbos species, thus minimising preferred nesting habitats for some fynbos bird species.

The intensity of fires can significantly alter the fynbos profile of an area. Whilst some plant species may benefit from low intensity fire heat to allow for seed dispersal, other plant species can be eliminated by hi intensity fire. Total destruction of the underground parts of the plant and buried seeds can occur. Again, this impacts on breeding, nesting and the food source of endemic birds and may also lead to fragmentation of breeding sites.

Breeding season versus Fire season.

At the moment, most fires occur during hot Summer and Autumn months, when breeding is finished. Most fynbos birds breed during late Winter and early Spring, so impact on breeding is generally confined to loss of suitable nesting sites. However, if fires occur earlier in the breeding season, fynbos bird species most affected would be those nesting in fynbos scrub, such as Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Neddicky, Grey-backed Cisticola and Cape Sugarbird. Some such as the Victorin’s Warblers concentrate  into damp, south-facing stream-side kloofs, shielded from all but the fiercest fires.

Article submitted by Pat Redford

References:

  • Mike Ford (Hermanus Bird Club)
  • “Fynbos Ecology and Management” Karen Essler/Shirley Pierce/ Charl de Villiers
  • “Roberts Bird Guide” Hugh Chittenden
  • “Sasol Birds of Southern Africa” Ian Sinclair
  • “Birds Attracted to a fire in Mountain Fynbos” W.R.J. Dean, UCT
  • Fernkloof Nature Reserve website
  • “Vanishing Flora” Anneke Kearney
  • “Walking with Paul Grobler” website

 

4 comments on “Fynbos Fires and their Consequences for Birds

  1. Well done Pat on this very interesting and informative article. I have seen one or two Fynbos birds, such as the Orange Breasted Sunbird which does not usually frequent my garden, flying around in this area (Northcliff) since the recent fire on the mountain above us.

  2. Pingback: Fynbos Fires and their Consequences for Birds | HERBS – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

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