Assessing the threats to black cockatoos

December 22, 2011

Print This Post Print This Post

Murdoch University researchers are investigating the health of wild black cockatoo populations in Western Australia’s south west.

Research leader Dr Kris Warren, senior lecturer in wildlife and zoo medicine at the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, is collaborating with colleagues from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), Perth Zoo and Birds Australia to investigate the health and population status of the three species of black cockatoos endemic to WA – Carnaby’s cockatoo, Baudin’s cockatoo and red-tailed black cockatoo.

The aims of the three year project include developing a tool to help them determine the age of black cockatoos and investigating the clinical significance of viruses found in these species and their nests.

Dr Warren said the investigation was vital to help conserve the three species, which are all facing population declines.

“The major threats to black cockatoos include habitat loss, competition with other species for nesting hollows, climate change and human impacts such as vehicle strikes, illegal shooting and poaching,” she said.

“But we don’t know whether disease is also a threatening factor. Our research on the black cockatoo nestlings has detected infection with two viruses, which in some parrot species can affect juvenile survival rates. While we have not yet found evidence of disease associated with these viral infections in the black cockatoos, the presence of these infections is of potential concern.

“We also want to study the effects of climate change on these birds. Climate change is expected to exacerbate many threats, for example resulting in expansion of ranges of feral bees, a major competitor for nest hollows, and also affect chick survival due to the inability of parents to effectively forage in hot weather during the nesting season.”

“Health data on wild black cockatoos is virtually non-existent due to the difficulty in obtaining samples. So we have been working very closely with DEC during their recent routine nest checks to obtain blood and swab samples from black cockatoos for health assessments.”

The team are also working to try and determine the ages of wild black cockatoos which will help researchers understand their life histories and age demographics, give them an insight into their life cycles and aid species recovery programs.

“It is thought the average age of flocks is increasing and many birds may be past breeding age. If this is true, then there may be a catastrophic population crash when the older birds die,” said Dr Warren.

“American research has shown that the concentration of a compound in bird skin could be used to determine age so we are hoping to use this method on wild injured and debilitated black cockatoos admitted for treatment to the Perth Zoo Veterinary Department from 2011 to 2013. This should provide us with an invaluable insight.”

DEC, Newmont Boddington Gold, BHP Billiton Worsley Alumina and donors to the Murdoch University Veterinary Trust have all provided funding for the research.

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!