Are black cockatoos endangered?

There are three species of black cockatoos in the South West of Western Australia and all of them are under threat of extinction.

The Carnaby’s and Baudin’s Cockatoo, also known as white tailed black cockatoos are listed as endangered while the Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoo is listed as vulnerable.

Declining Numbers of black cockatoos

The alarming number of birds that have been lost over recent decades – especially in the WA areas – is alarming.  Of the three sub-species only found in the South West of WA, the Baudin’s cockatoo is the most endangered with numbers estimated at less than 10,000 remaining in the wild!

In the past, flock of black cockatoos used to darken the sky of WA’s South West when passing through. Nowadays, only small flocks can be seen. Only the flock of Carnaby’s cockatoos in the Yanchep area remains the biggest one with around 4,000 Carnaby’s.

Due to the long periods involved in successfully raising young, these birds are on the decline with flock numbers falling and fewer young cockatoos reaching breeding status.

Black cockatoos generally lay one or two eggs in a breeding season.  However, only one chick is usually reared to adulthood (Not enough food is available for two chicks).

Eggs can take over a month to hatch and young birds will take up to 18 months to learn how to feed themselves. While the mother incubates the egg, the father feeds her until the hatching of the chick (or chicks if the couple is lucky).

Their steady decline is due to:

  • Destruction of forests and native bushland
    Large scale clearing in the wheatbelt and Banksia and Tuart woodlands on the Swan Coastal Plain in the Perth area.
  • Habitat fragmentation (cockatoos need to travel further to reach food and shelter)
    Bushfires (it destroys food sources and nesting hollows with sometimes their young chicks)
  • Storms
  • Feral European honeybees and other animals taking over their nest hollows
  • Being hit by trucks/cars
  • Illegal shooting
  • Illegal poaching
  • Raven attacks in Perth and suburbia

Habitat loss is the main threat to the decline of the black cockatoos

Sadly, due to land development in Perth & surrounds and the clearing of the Wheatbelt for agriculture, black cockatoos, like many other native animals, are running out of spaces to live, feed and breed. A black cockatoo approximately needs to eat 200 marri nuts or equivalent per day. It’s a lot of seeds per cockatoo when you think about it!

Wally Kerkhof has built and installed artificial nest hollows in the town of Moora (one of the places in the Wheatbelt where Carnaby’s go to breed). These hollows have been very successful. Photo The Rain Bird Photography

Seasonal events such as bushfires can take a toll

Seasonal events can also have a catastrophic effect on food sources and young birds.  Sudden ‘freak’ hailstorms that can sweep through the city during a Perth summer in just a matter of minutes, can destroy pockets of fruit trees in the outer suburbs, other growing food sources and in fact, the birds themselves. Bushfires, droughts, flooding and high winds can also bring about casualties during the breeding season.

In addition to the issues of safe breeding and food sources, there is also the obvious clash of humans and birds living in such close proximity. There are a number of phone calls received each week at Kaarakin, requesting bird rescues – injured birds stuck in trees, victims of our roads after being hit by vehicles, hitting power lines, windows of buildings, or victims of the pets people keep. One Carnaby’s was accidently hit by a golf ball in 2019. He made a full recovery and spent one night at our centre before being released.

Orchardists

Orchardists and black cockatoos – in fact at number of parrot species – have been increasingly in conflict in recent decades, with each desperately trying to provide for their own families (both cockatoos and farmers) and benefit from the fruits of orchards.

Unfortunately, food shortages have made the birds less inclined to be shoo-ed away as there is little else for them to find to feed themselves and their young.

Due to the human destruction of the natural environment in the greater Perth area and beyond – clearing land for cities, homes and roads, we have encroached on the natural territory of the black cockatoos.

They naturally return to the same place each year to breed, bring up their young and feed ferociously to sustain them all during this time. However, often they are now returning to cityscapes and suburbia, making food sources and nesting sources scarce.

Unfortunately, those who have orchards can be “bombarded” during a period of peak growth (both in the orchards and of cockatoos themselves).  Cockatoos, such as the Baudin’s cockatoo revel in the fields of nuts, seeds and fruits growing wherever they can find them.

The birds have the ability to cause enormous damage – stripping an orchard and leaving behind a trail of damaged trees and ruined crops in a matter of just a day or two.

This can be devastating for farmers – not to mention the financial loss of a year’s investment. As the birds are not able to be shot, or even harmed during these interactions, some creativity is needed to keep the birds at bay.  Cockatoos are highly intelligent and can quickly learn to be unafraid of deterrents such as hanging CD’s in trees to reflect light, hanging silhouettes of large birds of prey on high wires hovering above orchards, or setting of a gun-shot sound every 15 mins throughout the daylight hours.

Ideally, orchards need to be netted in a way that prevents birds (and weather events like hail) from harming crops. However, the prohibitive cost of this means farmers are rarely able to do this.

There are penalties of up to $10,000 for shooting black cockatoos under the Wildlife Conservation Act, and under Commonwealth legislation, fines of up to $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a corporation.

Sadly, it is estimated that around 200 birds are shot each year (source: WWF).

To report an injured cockatoo or provide information about illegal shootings, contact the Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055 or the Parks and Wildlife Manjimup office on 9771 7988.

Conflict with Human Environments

Humans have systematically moved into areas and environments previously occupied by wildlife, and a range of bird species. These areas have been their feeding, resting, nesting and breeding sites

However, the vast clearing and urban building within these areas have often come into conflict with the black cockatoos. Roads, vehicles, buildings, powerlines, vast areas of concrete and clearance of all vegetation have contributed to the decline in the flocks we knew in our childhoods.

One of the biggest problems has been the clearance of vital feeding and nesting sites. The other has been the clash of birds with ‘human infrastructure like powerlines, buildings, fencing and farming methods that may include poisoning/fertilising and of course, roads and fast-moving vehicles.

These are relatively large birds and take longer to actually lift off and clear of the vehicle once they are started.  They are often struggling to get that initial lift when the rapidly approaching car is too fast for them and tragic collisions occur. The majority of black cockatoos coming into our care result from vehicles strikes and raven attacks.

They are frequently in flocks which again, slows down the clearance of these birds from danger once the initial alarm has been sounded.

After loss of habitat, one of the main threats to the decline of the black cockatoos are vehicle strikes. In this picture taken by art_by_nature98, Carnaby’s can be seen drinking sprinkler run off water on the road. Carnaby’s need time to take off due to their heavy weight.

Raven attacks are on the rise

Approximately 25% of the black cockatoos coming into our care suffered raven attacks. A decade ago, red tail black cockatoos started to move into the Perth and its suburbs and adapted to eat non-native seeds such as cape lilac. Ravens are very territorial birds and perceive the red tail cockatoos as a non-welcome species. As Red-tailed black cockatoos are very shy birds, they get picked at by ravens, their tail feathers are pulled and the ravens will continue picking at the black cockatoo on the ground until dead. Unfortunately, there are too many ravens in Perth and the issue is exacerbated by the easy food supplies they get from rubbish bins which are not properly closed.

Tail feathers can take up to a year to grow back

How you can help

  • Support Kaarakin: Virtually adopt a black cockatoo, browse our online shop, come for a visit (private tour or open tour weekend), or support one of our projects
  • Spread the word
  • Protect remaining bushlands
  • Plant a black cockatoo/ native bird friendly garden and install a bird bath
  • Report any injured black cockatoos to Kaarakin or bring the cockatoo to a vet

Consultations

Kaarakin is able to provide advice for projects likely to impact black cockatoo habitat and welfare. For more information please contact us: