Cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets battle for nest space as the best old trees disappear


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Gregory Moore, The University of MelbourneThe housing market in most parts of Australia is notoriously competitive. You might be surprised to learn we humans are not the only ones facing such difficulties.

With spring rapidly approaching, and perhaps a little earlier due to climate change, many birds are currently on the hunt for the best nesting sites.

This can be hard enough for birds that construct nests from leaves and twigs in the canopies of shrubs and trees, but imagine how hard it must be for species that nest in tree hollows.

They are looking for hollows of just the right size, in just the right place. Competition for these prime locations is cut-throat.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos battling for spots

Sulphur-crested cockatoos, Cacatua galerita, are relatively large birds, so naturally the hollows they nest in need to be quite large.

Unfortunately, large hollows are only found in old trees.

It can take 150 years or more before the hollows in the eucalypts that many native parrot species nest in are large enough to accommodate nesting sulphur-crested cockatoos. Such old trees are becoming rarer as old trees on farms die and old trees in cities are cleared for urban growth.

In late winter, early spring you quite often find sulphur crested-cockatoos squabbling among themselves over hollows in trees.

A cockatoo sits in a hollow.
It can take 150 years or more before the hollows in the eucalypts that many native parrot species nest in are large enough to accommodate nesting sulphur-crested cockatoos.
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These squabbles can be very loud and raucous. They can last from a few minutes to over an hour, if the site is good one. Once a pair of birds takes possession and begins nesting, they defend their spot and things tend to quieten down.

The stakes are high, because sulphur-crested cockatoos cannot breed if they don’t have a nesting hollow.




Read more:
Don’t disturb the cockatoos on your lawn, they’re probably doing all your weeding for free


Enter the rainbow lorikeets

In parts of southeastern Australia, rainbow lorikeets, Trichoglossus moluccanus (and/or Trichoglossus haematodus), have expanded their range over the past couple of decades. It is not uncommon to see sulphur-crested cockatoos in dispute with them over a hollow.

The din can be deafening and if you watch you will see both comedy and drama unfold. The sulphur-crested cockatoos usually win and drive the lorikeets away, but all is not lost for the lorikeets.

Sometimes the hollows prove unsuitable — usually if they are too small for the cockatoos — and a few days later the lorikeets have taken up residence. Larger hollows are rarer and so more highly prized.

A rainbow lorikeet shelters in the hollow of a tree.
It is not uncommon to see sulphur-crested cockatoos in dispute with rainbow lorikeets over a hollow.
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How hollows form

Many hollows begin at the stubs of branches that have been shed either as part of the tree’s growth cycle or after storm damage. The wood at the centre of the branch often lacks protective defences and so begins to decay while the healthy tree continues to grow over and around the hollow.

Other hollows develop after damage to the trunk or on a large branch, following lightning damage or insect attack. Parrots will often peck at the hollow to expand it or stop it growing over completely. Just a bit of regular home maintenance.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos can often be seen pecking at the top of large branches on old trees, where the branch meets the trunk. They can do considerable damage. When this area begins to decay, it can provide an ideal hollow for future nesting.

Sadly, for the cockatoo, it may take another century or so and the tree might shed the limb in the interim. Cockatoos apparently play a long game and take a very long term perspective on future nesting sites.

A cockatoo sits in a hollow.
Every effort must be made to ensure old, hollow-forming trees are preserved.
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Which trees are best for hollows?

In watching the local battles for parrot nesting sites, some tree species are the scenes of many a conflict.

Sugar gums, Eucalyptus cladocalyx, were widely planted as wind breaks in southern Australia and they were often lopped to encourage a bushier habit that provided greater shade.

Poor pruning often leads to hollows and cavities, which are now proving ideal for nesting — but it also resulted in poor tree structure. Sugar gums are being removed and nesting sites lost in many country towns and peri-urban areas (usually the areas around the edges of suburbs with some remaining natural vegetation, or the areas around waterways).

A rainbow lorikeet hides in a hollow.
Many species need hollows for nests.
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Old river red gums, (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) growing along our creeks and rivers are also great nesting sites. They are so big they provide ideal sites for even the largest of birds.

These, too, are ageing and in many places are declining as riverine ecosystems suffer in general. Even the old elms, Ulmus, and London plane trees, Platanus x acerifolia — which were once lopped back to major branch stubs each year, leading hollows to develop — are disappearing as they age and old blocks are cleared for townhouses.




Read more:
The river red gum is an icon of the driest continent


Protecting tree hollows

Cavities in trees are not that common. Large cavities are especially valuable assets. They are essential to maintaining biodiversity because it is not just birds, but mammals, reptiles, insects and arachnids that rely on them for nesting and refuge.

If you have a tree with a hollow, look after it. And while some trees with hollows might be hazardous, most are not. Every effort must be made to ensure old, hollow-forming trees are preserved. Just as importantly, we must allow hollow-forming trees to persist for long enough to from hollows.

We consider our homes to be our castles. Other species value their homes just as highly, so let’s make sure there are plenty of tree hollows in future.The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cocky count: how Perth’s ‘green’ growth plan could wipe out WA’s best-loved bird


Robert Davis, Edith Cowan University and Martine Maron, The University of Queensland

Carnaby’s black cockatoo lives only in southwestern Australia. Although a much-loved cultural icon, it is now facing a major threat to its persistence: urban growth. Will Western Australia’s favourite bird survive Perth’s expansion?

It is already listed as endangered under state and federal legislation. Historical land clearing has decimated Carnaby’s numbers, felling their breeding grounds and reducing their range. Today, the birds are thought to be using all of their remaining habitat, which is barely enough to sustain the population.

Current distribution range of Carnaby’s black cockatoos.
Joseph Forshaw/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

But there is a major new threat to this charismatic cockatoo. The new “Green Growth Plan” for Perth and the nearby Peel region could pave the way for the clearing of tens of thousands of hectares of important feeding and roosting habitat, in the name of urban development.

A rocky road ahead

State environment minister Albert Jacob has claimed that the Green Growth Plan is “the absolute best opportunity” for the cockatoo population’s long-term survival.

But under the current draft plan, which is open for public consultation until May 13, Carnaby’s will lose more than 50% of their remaining feeding habitat in the Perth-Peel region, with a proportionate decline possible if key food resources are lost.

Perth’s unique Banskia woodlands are the critical native feeding habitat for Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo.
Robert Davis, Author provided

The Carnaby’s is already declining at an alarming rate, according to BirdLife Australia’s Great Cocky Count – one of the largest citizen science surveys of its kind in Australia.

The past six years of Great Cocky Counts suggest that the population has dropped by 15% each year. Without drastic action, the window of opportunity to save this population is rapidly closing.

Yet instead of addressing this decline, the Green Growth Plan is poised to lock in destruction of more than 30,000 hectares of Carnaby’s habitat, because the conservation measures it proposes are more than cancelled out by the loss of habitat in areas of prime habitat that are zoned for urban development.

New foods

In response to dwindling natural food sources, the adaptable Carnaby’s black cockatoos have been feeding on non-native pine plantations since the 1940s. These plantations have become even more important to the species as remaining native habitat continues to be cleared.

At their peak, Perth’s Gnangara pine plantation provided 23,000 ha of prime feeding and roosting habitat. One study found that the plantations support several thousand Carnaby’s black cockatoos from January to June each year, and more than half (59%) of the birds counted in the Perth region in 2014 were associated with Gnangara.

However, since 2004 these pines have been harvested without replacement. The plantations stand over an underground aquifer called the Gnangara Mound, one of Perth’s most important water resources. With Perth’s rainfall continuing to decline while the city’s water needs grow, the pines are no longer seen as a responsible use of water.

As removing the pines will increase recharge of the aquifer, the WA government has decided that the pines will have to go.

Even though the pines are not native, their loss will have a major impact on a species already imperilled by habitat loss. Many birds are likely to starve when the food source on which they have come to rely is taken away.

Why the Green Growth Plan doesn’t stack up

So what does the Green Growth Plan offer to protect the cockatoos in the face of the planned habitat loss? Unfortunately, not a lot.

In exchange for the loss of more than 14,000 ha of native habitat and 24,000 ha of pine forest in the Perth-Peel region, the plan proposes that 5,000 ha of pines should be replanted. But young pines take many years to produce the same amount of food as established trees, so there will be a time lag before the food source is even partly replaced.

The plan also proposes to increase the level of protection of more than 100,000 ha of existing feeding habitat. But of course, that habitat is already there, and is being used by the cockatoos. Most of it is also already protected to some degree, which raises questions about how much genuine benefit schemes like this really provide.

The bottom line is that less habitat cannot sustain the same number of cockatoos. They and other species that rely on Banksia woodlands of the Swan Coastal Plain have been suffering from Perth’s unchecked urbanisation for many decades.

For the Perth-Peel plan to truly be considered green, the needs of a growing city must be balanced fairly against preservation of our unique flora and fauna by prioritising habitat retention and looking to alternatives to the ongoing loss of critical habitat.

This article was co-authored by Tegan Douglas and Sam Vine of Birdlife Australia.

The Conversation

Robert Davis, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Biology, Edith Cowan University and Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: Western Australia – Carnaby’s Cockatoo Numbers Declining Fast


The following article reports on the rapidly falling numbers of Carnaby’s Cockatoo in Western Australia, Australia.

For more, visit:
http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/special-features/black-cockatoos-numbers-falling-fast/story-e6frg19l-1226293921795