Gang up to save special cockatoo

Published: 19 October 2021

Biologists Susan Rhind and Murray Ellis are calling on local citizen scientists to join them in a project designed to reverse the decline of one of Australia’s most iconic birds.

In the last 21 years gang gang cockatoos have declined by 69 per cent. Dr Rhind said the rapid decline had researchers worried about the species’ future.

“We didn’t realise exactly how much trouble gang gangs are in; they’re likely to be nationally listed as endangered when reassessed next year,” Dr Rhind said.

As part of coordinated research by scientists across Australia, Eurobodalla Council has joined with Dr Rhind to secure a grant to build and site artificial breeding hollows for gang gangs in Eurobodalla.

Council’s natural resources supervisor Courtney Fink Downes said the project was a logical extension of Council’s nest-box program, which also relied on the expertise of Dr Rhind and Dr Ellis.

“Everyone loves these gorgeous grey cockatoos, with their crazy mohawk crests and the males’ bright scarlet heads. Here’s a great opportunity for the community to join in to secure the future of these beautiful parrots,” Ms Fink Downes said.

“It’s a three-stage project. Initially we need to locate natural hollows where gang gangs are showing interest. Then we build scientifically designed nest tubes to be hung in the vicinity of those natural hollows. Finally, we set up for five years of volunteer and mechanical nest monitoring. We’re looking for help at each stage of the project.

“Really, this has to be one of the most exciting citizen science projects out there.”

Dr Rhind has developed gang gang specific nesting tubes after examining models successful in helping other endangered cockatoos, including glossy black cockatoos in the east and Carnaby’s and Baudin’s black cockatoos in Western Australia. The dimensions of the nest tubes for this project were adjusted using measurements of natural gang gang hollows made by ACT researchers, who will also deploy nest tubes as part of the collaborative research effort.

“Each nesting tube is a 75cm length of capped PVC tube, with drainage holes in the bottom and a single hole for a chewing stick in the top. The entry is on the side with an internal metal ladder from entry to base,” Dr Rhind said.

“They’ve been precisely designed to ensure adult birds and chicks can climb up and down with ease. The design is very precise to avoid potential welfare concerns. While your standard wooden nest box won’t endanger birds, they’re of no use for gang gangs – they’d be chewed apart in not time!

“That’s one reason we put the chew stick through the top of the nest-tube. The birds will chew this up and it becomes litter in the tube base for the eggs to rest on. As the stick is chewed down over time, it also provides us with a clear indicator that nest tube is in use.”

Gang gang researchers in the ACT have noticed several gang gang pairs will nest in close vicinity and appear to defend each other’s hollows. Dr Rhind said she planned to locate three nest-tubes near a natural gang gang hollow at ten different locations in Eurobodalla this summer.

“The nesting tubes won’t be used by the birds this breeding season. But putting them up by January and February gives them plenty of time to examine the tubes. Gang gangs don’t necessarily use the same hollows each year but they should remember the nest tubes for future years. It also means we can thoroughly test the tubes with temperature loggers over the hottest part of the summer to ensure there’s no risk of nestlings overheating.”

Ms Fink Downes has issued a call to action.

“Right now we’re keen to hear from anyone in Eurobodalla who has recently seen gang gangs checking out tree hollows – this is the time they are looking at potential nest sites,” she said.

“Tech savvy people can upload this information directly to the iNaturalist app or website. Otherwise, send the details to our dedicated project email address and include the time and location of your siting, a photograph of the tree and, if possible, a photo of the tree hollow as well.”

For more information on the project contact Courtney Fink Downes on 4474 7493.

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