Species profile

Greater Bilby

Greater Bilby

Range and abundance

Once widespread across semi-arid and arid Australia (occupying around 70% of the continent), the Bilby is now limited to less than 20% of its former range. The species currently occurs as patchily distributed populations throughout the Tanami (NT) west to Broome and south to Warburton (WA), with isolated populations north of Birdsville in south-western QLD and north-east of Alice Springs, NT.

The Bilby suffered a sudden and widespread population crash in the early 20th Century. The species is continuing to decline and is now confined to the driest and least fertile parts of its former distribution.

Description

A quote by Hedley Finlayson describes the Bilby as taking “a number of structural peculiarities to grotesque lengths yet manages to reconcile them all in a surprisingly harmonious and even beautiful whole”. This is quite apt for the bilby: it’s long rabbit-like ears, pointed snout, long hind feet and bicoloured tail create a jumbled mess of charm.

Bilbies are sexually dimorphic, with males reaching up to 2.5kg and females 1.1kg. They have an acute sense of scent and hearing, but very poor eyesight.

Ecology

Bilbies are solitary and nocturnal, only appearing from their underground burrows after dark. Burrows may be up to 3m in length and 1.8m deep.

Bilbies occur throughout a variety of habitats, from Mitchell grass and stony downs country of cracking clays, to desert sandplains and dunefields. They are opportunistic feeders, with a diet consisting of insects, seeds, bulbs, fruit and fungi. Surface water is rarely available in the Bilby’s habitat, however they derive sufficient water from their food. Feeding in sandy areas is not without its hassles; sand ingested during the foraging process means that the faeces of a bilby may contain anywhere from 20-90% sand.

The species has a high reproductive output and may breed throughout the year. The pouch is backwards facing and contains 8 teats, though is rarely occupied by more than two young.

Threats

Altered fire regime, competition for resources with introduced herbivores, and predation by Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and Cats (Felis catus) are the main reasons attributed to the decline in bilby population.


 

What is AWC doing?

AWC protects 15-20% of the entire Bilby population (estimated at less than 10,000 animals across Australia). AWC protects two large, self-sustaining populations of bilbies and Yookamurra Sanctuary in SA, and Scotia Sanctuary in NSW. These populations exist within large secure areas (1100 and 8000ha, respectively) protected from feral predators by exclusion fences.

Did you know:

On average, each individual Bilby turns over around 20 tonnes of soil each year!

Bilbies have attitude! Their tails sport a “mowhawk” hairstyle of long, stiff hairs, black for the proximal third with a white distal portion, contrasting to the silky soft grey fur on their body. There were once two species of Bilby – the Lesser Bilby (now extinct) and the Greater Bilby, differentiated mostly by their size.