Our Black Cockatoos

Carnaby's black cockatoos flying over Herdsman Lake by Ian

Once upon a time, Black Cockatoos flew in vast flocks, bright tail feathers flashing, calling to each other as they gathered to feed and roost. Just 50 years ago, these unique birds were so plentiful their flocks would blacken the sky. But not anymore.

The Cockatoos Need You

I love hearing the raucous cries of black cockatoos as they fly over my house or when I see them laughing at the top of tuarts in the park or ripping pine cones to pieces at Curtin University. With all these sightings of my favourite bird, you might think there are lots of them, but sadly Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus latirostris) are an endangered species [1].

My friends’ bush block is the best place to see black cockatoos. They have a garden of banksias and other native plants surrounding a bird bath. Although there’s more often honey eaters, wattlebirds and blue wrens, every now and then a flock of black cockies comes down for a drink and a chat about the weather. It’s said that black cockies fly over when it’s going to rain [2]. This probably came about because black cockies migrate from the Wheatbelt east of Perth where they breed, to the Swan Coastal Plain in autumn to winter along the coast [3].

There was a pine plantation near my friends’ block which provided ample dining for the black cockies. This was cleared a couple of years ago, and it’s taken them a few seasons, but the cockies have learned to crack open the tasty nuts of a macadamia tree in the garden. Black cockies also love Woody pears (Xylomelum occidentale) which are common in my friends’ bush.

Tom Wilson with red tailed black cockatoo

In June this year we had a very close encounter with some black cockies. We were walking along the fire break at the edge of the property and a flock of about twenty black cockies landed on a banksia in the centre of the bush. The sun was starting to set and they were on their way to finding a place to roost for the night. We watched them for a bit and continued walking. We came to a stand of woody pears and stopped to look at some plant (which was quickly disregarded) because the flock flew to the woody pears and perched above us, squawking riotously to tell us they’d arrived. Some were only a metre overhead and were ripping at the bark of the branches, raining down pieces on our heads. It was thrilling to see these majestic birds so close and almost as if they were perched on our shoulders like this red-tailed black cockatoo (above) with Tom Wilson at the Black Cockatoo Rehabilitation Centre in Martin near Perth. After laughing at our oohs and ahhs the flock of Carnaby’s black cockatoos flew on toward their evening roost.

Carnaby's black cockatoo eating banksia cone by J. Godfrey

In August last year I had a not quite so close run-in with three black cockies near my house. I was at the small bush reserve nearby taking photos of a white flowering Honey Bush (Hakea lissocarpha). It’s my favourite hakea and until last winter I’d only seen the pink flowering variety at Star Swamp. I don’t think the white flowers are quite as pretty.

chewed Banksia prionotes

There are some Banksia prionotes near the honey bush. The tallest is covered in flowers in autumn, but they’re always chewed and strewn on the ground (right). Now I’ve met the culprits. The cockies were making so much noise I was sure there must be dozens, but only three were having a lovely lunch until I rudely interrupted them. I didn’t get closer than about 50m and they were ok with this for a bit, but having Sheeba the dog with me made them jumpy and they flew off to the tuart up the hill. They’re truly amazing and I hope they’ll always be with us.

Unfortunately our cockatoos are in crisis and numbers have been declining compared to a population survey undertaken in 2006. A coalition of groups has been working to stop clearing of cockatoo habitat – bushland, heathlands, wetlands and forest. After almost 200 years of indiscriminate land clearing in WA, we have little native vegetation left. With a renewed push by a pro-development government and a strong economy, the last remaining natural areas are under threat, including Beeliar Wetlands and bushland in excellent condition at Jandakot Airport, clearing of which was approved in March 2010.

The loss of habitat is placing pressure on our native species such as the endangered black cockatoo. A website was launched in September to promote the cause: The Cockatoos Need You. Please visit and sign the online petition which will send a message to WA Premier Colin Barnett and Federal Minister for the Environment Tony Burke.

Carnaby's black cockatoos feeding on parrot bush in Neerabup by Paul Schipper

To find out more about Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos go to Birds Australia’s Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo Recovery website and email Raana Scott to receive their newsletter “Cocky Notes.” The June issue includes photos of a female black cockatoo at least 25 years old and a very fat carpet python which has just eaten a nesting bird (not the 25 year old bird!)

=^.^=

photo credits

  1. Carnaby’s black cockatoos flying over Herdsman Lake by Ian on Flickr
  2. Tom Wilson with red tailed black cockatoo from Tom Wilson
  3. Carnaby’s black cockatoo eating slender banksia cone by J. Godfrey on Flickr
  4. Chewed acorn banksia flower by Clare Snow
  5. Carnaby’s black cockatoos feeding on parrot bush in Neerabup by Paul Schipper on Flickr

references

  1. BirdLife International 2008. Calyptorhynchus latirostris. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 07 November 2010
  2. Ramage, Jan & Hickman, Ellen 2008. Tuart Dwellers Perth, WA: DEC
  3. Stojanovic, Dejan 2009. “Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo” Landscope vol.24, no.4, p.16-23

2 thoughts on “Our Black Cockatoos

  1. Pingback: woody pear trees | Ockham's Razor

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