Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo in nest box © WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy

Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo in nest box © WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy

Hope for the glossy black cockatoo

10 Mar 2020

Keywords
  • bushfire
  • black cockatoos
  • south australia
  • threatened species

When fierce bushfires tore across Kangaroo Island, there were fears some native species would never recover. Though amidst the devastation comes a story of hope, as early surveys have revealed sightings of endangered glossy black cockatoos in burnt out habitat.

Staff from Natural Resources Kangaroo Island and WWF-Australia spotted three female glossy black cockatoos in artificial nesting boxes. The team is also monitoring glossy black cockatoos in habitat that escaped the fires and they observed several pairs feeding and mating during a visit to Cygnet Park.

Thanks to our supporters’ donations, WWF-Australia has been able to distribute funds to Natural Resources Kangaroo Island to support recovery efforts for the glossy black cockatoo species.

We spoke to Karleah Berris from Natural Resources Kangaroo Island during a visit to burnt out bushland in Lathami Conservation Park.

Karleah Berris from Natural Resources Kangaroo Island and Darren Grover looking for glossy black cockatoos © WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy

What were the bushfires like?

The bushfires on Kangaroo Island started about the 20 December. At the time, we were concerned about some areas further west of here, especially a large area of Western River that was burnt. I was really concerned about the glossy black cockatoos at that stage. Little did we know that about 10 days later, another bushfire would start in the ravine further west. At the time we thought, that's further west, so we didn't have any fears for this patch we're standing in at all because it was so far away. But then we had those two horrible nights where the fire raced through Kangaroo Island and basically wooshed up through here.

How much of the glossy black cockatoos’ habitat has been lost?

Unfortunately, we think there's probably going to be quite a big impact on the glossy black cockatoos. The fires did come through, the worst of them, at night and the birds are day-active, so they probably would’ve been quite disorientated. However, we're hoping that a lot of the adults survived in these burnt areas. What we're really concerned about now is starvation, going forward. We think about 60% of their feeding habitat has actually been impacted if not destroyed.

How many do you estimate remain?

At the moment it's really too early to tell how many birds we have left. Our best chance to check will be this September. In September/October what usually happens is all the birds get together and introduce their young of the year to each other. So they form these really discreet flocks and that's when we can count them really well.  

What are you doing to save them?

The big thing we know about glossies from when they became extinct on mainland South Australia is if you've got no she-oak trees [the main source of food for the cockatoos], you're not going to have any glossies.

What we're doing is planting she-oaks in more cleared areas where we can space them nicely. We know those trees will probably produce seeds within six to eight years. Where we do have bits of she-oak left, we'll increase the number of nesting boxes in those areas to try and support more birds where the live feed is.

She-oak, the glossy black cockatoo\

What impact does a changing climate have on this species?

Obviously the wildfires this year have been completely devastating. I don't think we ever thought we'd lose this much food in one go. The wildfires have always been a huge concern and our recovery plans certainly reflected that. Low rainfall is also a concern because there have been observations in the past, during the millennial drought, that when you get lower rainfall, the she-oaks produce less seed and you get far fewer cones on the trees. So if you're combining wildfires, and the surviving trees also have less seed, you could really be making it difficult for these cockatoos long-term. 

What does the future look like?

Well, I think the future looks a lot brighter because so many people care. The money from WWF, the interest we've been getting from volunteers, it's really heartening that people want to see this species persist, which is amazing. With the level of care and love for this species, we'll be able to do good things. We're in for around 10 years where it's going to be pretty tough for the population. This population has recovered before really successfully, we know how to do that. So going forward, hopefully we can do it again.

Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoos © WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy 

To donate to WWF-Australia’s Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund  click here. Donations will go toward continuing wildlife response efforts, habitat restoration and future-proofing Australia.

If you want to take further action you can help by signing this  petition to tell our Government decision-makers how important Australian wildlife is to you. It only takes 60 seconds to add your name and your own message, and we’ll send your submission to the Review Panel on your behalf.

Natural Resources Kangaroo Island has also partnered with Nature Foundation SA to establish a fund to directly support the Glossy Black Cockatoo Recovery Program, making it easier for members of the public to donate. People can help fund the gloss-black cockatoo’s recovery here: https://www.naturefoundation.org.au/support-us/glossy-black-cockatoo-recovery-program

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