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The Greater Bilby. © Reg Morrison / AUSCAPE.
The Greater Bilby. © Reg Morrison / AUSCAPE.


Scientific name: Macrotis lagotis

Bilbies were once found across 70% of Australia and are thought to have been here for up to 15 million years!

With long pinkish-coloured ears and silky, blue-grey fur, the Bilby has become Australia’s version of the Easter Bunny. Unlike the rabbit, bilby numbers are falling rapidly.

There were originally two species but the Greater Bilby is now commonly referred to simply as ‘the Bilby’ as the Lesser Bilby (Macrotis leucura) is thought to have become extinct in the early 1950s.

Bilbies feature in the songs and stories of Aboriginal Australians, who refer to them by up to 20 different names.

Bilbies co-existed with Aboriginal people for 60,000 years. Since European settlement they’ve been pushed close to extinction.

Greater Bilby. Photo Steve Parish.

The Bilby is about the size of a domestic cat. The male, which is larger than the female, grows to about 50cm from tip to tail, and weighs up to 2.5kg. Bilbies typically live for about 10 years.

Where do Bilbies live?

Bilbies are generalist animals and were once found across 70% of Australia. Today they’re restricted to around 15% – the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory, the Gibson, Little and Great Sandy Deserts, the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia, and the Mitchell Grasslands of southwest Queensland.

Bilbies use their strong forelimbs and claws to build extensive tunnels, which provide shelter from the fierce heat and predators. Each Bilby may have up to 12 burrows, with burrows up to 3m long and 2m deep.

Bilbies dig a new burrow every few weeks and these are often also used by other native animals.

Bilby behaviour

Bilbies are nocturnal, emerging after dark to forage for food. Using their long snouts, they dig out bulbs, tubers, spiders, termites, witchetty grubs and fungi. They use their tongues to lick up grass seeds.

Bilbies have poor sight and rely on good hearing and a keen sense of smell. To minimise threats from predators they’ll mostly stay within 250m of their burrows, but sometimes roam further afield depending on the food supply.

A juvenile bilby. Photo by Margarita Steinhardt (


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While feeding, bilbies ingest large amounts of dirt or sand, which characterise their droppings. They don’t need to drink water as they get enough moisture from their food. This contributes to their success in arid regions. Nevertheless, bilbies are extremely adaptive, and have lived in a range of habitats throughout Australia.

Depending on the food supply, bilbies reproduce year round, with females typically giving birth to one, two, or occasionally three tiny offspring. It’s rare for all of them to survive to adulthood.

Newborn bilbies crawl from the opening of the birth canal to their mother’s pouches (which are backward-facing to prevent sand getting in when they dig).

Babies remain in the pouch for around 80 days. Female bilbies reproduce from the age of six months.

Why are bilbies endangered?

Once widespread throughout Australia, bilby numbers fell significantly in the early 20th Century, with the current population estimated to be fewer than 10,000.

The two main threats are competition for food from livestock and introduced species such as rabbits, and predation by foxes and feral cats.

Bilbies are known to enclose themselves in their burrows to escape from predators, which often try to come in after them.

Greater Bilbies. Photo Bruce Thomson.

Changing fire patterns have also affected Bilbies. That’s why it’s very important that traditional patch burning is undertaken in the areas where bilbies remain.

Large hot wildfires remove the cover provided by vegetation over vast continuous areas making bilbies more vulnerable to predation.

Small patch burns act as fire breaks and reduce the size of large wildfires, they also promote food plants for the bilby.

The Greater Bilby is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Senior Birriliburu Ranger Rita Cutter points out a Bilby burrow, Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area.

What’s Bush Heritage doing?

We’re working with the Martu people on conservation programs in the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area in remote Western Australia. This is a partnership with Traditional Owners and Central Desert Land and Community.

The Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area occupies 6.6 million hectares of Native Title-determined land in the Little Sandy and Gibson Desert. Our ecologist is working with the Birriliburu Rangers to monitor bilby populations.

The bilby population in this area is only just hanging on; with feral cats and foxes representing a major threat.

The Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area represents the southern edge of their current range – which has been retreating north in recent years. There’s a great urgency to monitor burrow systems, manage the land and do all that we can to protect the species and help ensure they remain here.

The Birriliburu Rangers are experts in tracking, finding burrow systems and identifying suitable bilby habitat. They’re passionate about bilby conservation and want to see the species survive and thrive on their country, as it has for thousands of years.

If anyone is going to save the bilby and the other animals in this landscape, it’s going to be Aboriginal people through programs like the Birriliburu partnership.

The Greater Bilby Bushgift card.

A Bilby Gift Card is a virtual gift that supports our work with the Martu people in the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area to protect Bilbies. See our bushgifts cards for more.

Donate today to help us continue this and other vital conservation work.

Stories about Bilbies

BLOG 06/04/2023

Five facts about the iconic Bilby 

Here are some facts about the Greater Bilby, and reasons why the Birriliburu Rangers are working so hard to protect it. Move aside Easter Bunny, let’s make way for the Bilby!

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BUSHTRACKS 20/06/2018

Bringing back the Bilby

Rita Cutter and her fellow Birriliburu Rangers refuse to lose the Bilby from their country.

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BUSHTRACKS 30/09/2016

Partners in conservation

The Greater Bilby is one of many creatures that have benefited from the meeting of western scientific research and traditional ecological knowledge, since Bush Heritage and our many Aboriginal partners began working together in 2004.

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BLOG 05/07/2016

Indigenous Bilby Festival

I recently returned from a rewarding trip to the first ever Indigenous Bilby Festival with four Birriliburu Rangers: Ruth Wongawol, Caroline Long, Leonie Anderson and Rita Cutter.

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