Murdoch research helping to save iconic black cockatoos

March 12, 2018

Threatened species: PhD student Sam Rycken tracks rehabilitated black cockatoos to learn more about their behaviours.

Conservation efforts to help threatened black cockatoo species are being aided by Murdoch University researchers.

PhD student Sam Rycken tracks rehabilitated Baudin’s, Carnaby’s and Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoos to learn more about their ecology throughout their distribution range.

The cockatoos are fitted with satellite and GPS trackers which provide movement and behavioural information on what the birds, and the wild flocks with which they integrate following release, are doing at any given time.

“The research findings will address key issues in the recovery plans for these charismatic species. We’ve been working closely with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Perth Zoo, WWF, Birdlife Australia, Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Conservation Centre and the Department of Communities on this research project,” Mr Rycken said.

“Since we started in 2015, the study has identified critical foraging, drinking, roosting and breeding sites for these species so we can work towards conserving the habitat required for their survival.”

Mr Rycken is part of Murdoch’s Black Cockatoo Conservation Project, which is tracking rehabilitated black cockatoos brought in by the public for treatment at Perth Zoo for injuries sustained from having been hit by cars, illegally shot or attacked by raven attacks.

After recovery, the birds are released back into the wild, into known wild flocks, with satellite and GPS trackers fitted to gather information on the movement and distribution patterns of these flocks.

“They always surprise you, in terms of what they are eating or which areas they go to,” Mr Rycken said. “One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered is how strong the bond with the flock is. The birds socially integrate well into the wild flocks following release.

“As a species, black cockatoos are extremely adaptable and mobile but are still showing steady declines in their population mainly because of habitat loss.

“If they can’t survive in this environment, it means a lot of other less adaptable species are in real danger as well. Conserving their habitat means we’ll also be helping other animal species.”

Because sightings of black cockatoos are relatively common in urban areas, there is a misconception that the species are doing well, Mr Rycken added.

“Since habitat loss is a key threatening process for these species, preservation of native vegetation is of upmost importance. The public can also help by planting native species that black cockatoos feed on, instead of having a crisp lawn in the front yard.”

Information about black cockatoo food plant species is available on the DBCA and Birdlife Australia websites, and at most accredited nurseries.

Mr Rycken will be a guest speaker at the Festival of Birds Symposium on Friday 16 March at the Museum of Great Southern in Albany. He will reveal more about his research with a talk entitled ‘Insights into the ecology of the three black cockatoo species.’ Registrations can be done online.

 

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