Black Cockatoos: Tracking birds to find safe havens

THE WA government has given Murdoch University $1.5 million for conservation research into black cockatoos, while dithering over a revegetation project scientists say could avert thousands of bird deaths.

Black cockatoo populations have rapidly declined in the last decade, and the five-year research project led by Murdoch researcher Kris Warren will study the effects of habitat loss, climate change and disease on three WA’species; Carnaby’s, Baudin’s, and forest red-tailed cockatoos.

Satellite tracking

Using satellite tracking technology, Prof Warren’s researchers will monitor the birds’ migratory movement on the Perth-Peel Coastal Plain and in the South-West forest region, identifying areas that can be developed for urban planning, and those which should be conserved. 

It comes as the government is set to clear the last of the Gnangara pine plantation within two years; a vital food source that the birds have become reliant on due to habitat loss in other areas.

The plantation has been cleared by 70 per cent in the last three decades in the hope of protecting the Gnangara water mound below.

Conservationists are concerned there’s no plans for large scale revegetation on the site.

According to Save the Black Cockatoo campaign coordinator Paddy Cullen, 50 per cent of Perth’s Carnaby’s population could starve to death as a result.

BirdLife Australia cockatoo coordinator Sam Rycken agrees: “The Gnangara pines have been cleared, a major roost for over 3000 Carnaby’s which provides foraging as well, and we would abandon plans to revegetate this area? Not good enough,” Dr Rycken said.

Prof Warren says habitat loss is the most critical issue facing the cockatoos.

“The government can act in that way to ensure that there’s protection of key habitats for these birds,” she said.

The funding, provided through Main Roads and the Public Transport Authority, reflects the urgent need for conservation action, however major road and urban development projects such as Metronet and the proposed 80km Eastlink WA Highway Plan will clear hundreds of thousands of hectares of bushland and black cockatoo habitat.

While Main Roads have outlined strategies to help reduce the effect of their projects on the local environment, the works will cause significant stress on habitat and nearby fauna. 

“We not only need to retain habitat, we need to revegetate to increase habitat,” Prof Warren said. 

Net gain

“With development in the Perth area, there has been a net loss of habitat on the Swan Coastal Plain. We actually need to reverse the situation from a net loss to a net gain.”

Whilst research is important, experts are emphatic that urgent, proactive action is required to ensure that black cockatoo population numbers take flight.

“It’s important to emphasise that they don’t have time left, and now’s the time to act,” Prof Warren said. 

“That’s why this research is so important, but we also need action now.”

“We already have data that indicates that their population is showing an ongoing decrease,” Dr Rycken said. 

“We need to act now, if we take away their home and their food then where will they go? 

“It is now or never. Stop clearing, look into wildlife inclusive developments and revegetate major parts of South West Western Australia.”

by GRACE BARLOW

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