Helping to secure a brighter future for our Red-tails

The south-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo is one of the region’s most iconic endangered bird species.  Covering a range of around 18,000km2 from Nelson to Little Desert National Park in South West Victoria and from Mount Gambier to Keith in South Australia, the cockatoo has captured the attention and heart of many local communities, paving its way as one of the most well-known flagship species in the region.
Unlike other sub-species of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, the South-eastern sub-species relies on stringybark and buloke woodland habitats for feeding and eucalypt gum woodlands such as Red Gums for nesting. As with many threatened species, the loss and ongoing removal and deterioration of the cockatoo’s key feeding and nesting habitats has led to a decline in the population such that there are only around 1500 individuals thought to be remaining in the wild.

In an effort to recover the population and halt the rate of the decline a National Recovery Team and Program was established in 1996. The Team, which is made up of representatives from a diverse array of backgrounds, is responsible for guiding and coordinating the management and recovery of the cockatoo across South Australia and Victoria. For the last seventeen years, in partnership with BirdLife Australia, the Recovery Team has worked collaboratively with partner organisations and regional stakeholders to manage and improve habitat conditions for the species.

The outcomes of this recovery program have been far reaching – protecting habitat for Red-tails has not only improved habitat conditions for the cockatoo, but for many other native species that are reliant on scattered trees and stringybark, buloke and gum woodland habitats. By focusing our conservation activities around the Red-tail, the Recovery Program functions at both a habitat and land-scape level.

Through the work of the recovery program there have been many great achievements including:

•    changes in legislation to protect dead trees;
•    amendments to the planning overlays to better define and protect nesting and important buloke and stringybark feeding habitat;
•    direct involvement, facilitation and support of a diverse array of stringybark, buloke and gum woodland habitat restoration projects (Zoos SA Cockies helping Cockies Project, WCMA Habitat Tender, CVA’s Wild Future’s Project etc) both on private and public land;
•    the first range-wide landholder survey that resulted in widespread improved practises by both the Team and regional NRM practitioners;
•    numerous research publications on the decline and recruitment of buloke woodlands, nest site suitability, the effects of fire on stringybark seed production etc;
•    an extensive habitat modelling project to identify priority areas for revegetation of stringybark and buloke across the range;
•    eighteen annual counts with around 150 volunteers participating annually each year;
•    implementation of a Nest Incentive Scheme to locate and protect nest sites;
•    establishment of a SERTBC habitat propagation project with six local schools in the South East of SA;
•    numerous presentations and educational activities to a wide range of stakeholders to increase awareness and understanding of not only the cockatoo, but the communities in which it inhabits; and a
•    significant amount of public information including a website, pamphlets, booklets, posters, educational resources and newsletters.

Today the Recovery Team, together with BirdLife Australia, NRM agencies, NGO’s, community groups, volunteers and landholders is still very active, working hard to implement high priority actions from the National Recovery Plan to ensure the long-term survival of a healthy population of Red-tails.

Funded by the Australian Government through partner agencies including the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Wimmera CMA and Zoos SA, the recovery program has four main areas of focus including population monitoring, threat abatement and monitoring (including on-ground habitat protection/restoration activities), community engagement and education; and research.

Each year a range-wide count for the cockatoo is undertaken by volunteers to identify the location of large flocks, determine patterns of habitat use and minimum population size. This helps us to complete our annual flock counts which provide us with a measure of breeding success and how the population is faring.

Over the years the recovery program has supported and acted as a conduit/agent for organisations and landholders to deliver both small and large landscape scale habitat restoration projects. This includes the highly successful WCMA Habitat Tender and Zoos SA Cockies helping Cockies Project, which has seen more than 3000ha and 500 ha of Red-tail habitat protected/restored respectively. Another recent example is our partnership with Timberlands Pacific to replant stringybark and install nest boxes at three sites near the South Australian and Victorian border. This small scale revegetation project has had some great outcomes with gains in both feeding and nesting resources for the cockatoo. The Recovery Team is always willing to provide advice with regard to the management of Red-tail habitat and encourages groups or individuals looking to engage in these activities to contact the Team.  
Since 2011, the Recovery Team and BirdLife Australia have been offering incentives to landholders and members of the public for the discovery of new nest sites of the cockatoo as part of the Nest Incentive Scheme. The scheme, which offers $500 and $100 rewards for reporting information about the location of new and existing nests, has proved to very successful with over 14 new nest sites found over the last three years. Knowing the location of nests enables us to protect nest trees from terrestrial predators such as brush tailed possums and helps us to understand more about ideal nesting sites and where we can target habitat restoration activities. The program will continue over the 2014-15 breeding season (Sept – Feb), thanks to an extension in funding from the Nature Foundation of SA, with landholders and members of the public encouraged to report any information about nesting birds.

The Recovery Team continues to engage with government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources with regard to the management of fire in Red-tail habitats and native vegetation clearance regulations, and is working towards improving planning legislation to better define and protect habitats critical to the cockatoo. Ongoing consultation with these agencies will result in better management of Red-tail feeding habitat, particularly with regard to fire, which can have serious consequences on the food resource for this species.

The delivery of educational presentations to schools, community groups (Landcare, Birding Groups etc), and NRM agencies, and attendance at field day events continue to be a focus of the program and have proved to be effective way of disseminating information, raising awareness and connecting with the broader public about the needs, threats and actions that can be taken to improve habitat conditions for this species. These events provide a forum for farmers and land managers to engage with staff and members of the Recovery Team and learn about how they can contribute to conserving or restoring habitat for the cockatoo. The Team is always looking for opportunities to increase awareness and knowledge around the cockatoo and recovery program and encourages all interested groups to contact the project coordinator for more information on how groups can become involved.

Like many projects, the recovery program relies heavily on the help and support of many volunteers to carry out core activities undertaken as part of the project. Each year around 250 volunteers contribute their time, skills and knowledge in helping to search and count cockatoos, report and monitor nests, record sightings, plant and restore habitat, propagate stringybark seedlings and assist with field days and educational events.  Our volunteers come from a diversity of backgrounds and play an integral part in the recovery efforts for this species.

Although the process of recovery is slow and often quite challenging, activities undertaken as part of this project over the coming decades can ensure and secure a brighter future for our Red-tails and the many other species dependent on its habitats.

For more information of the project or how to become involved please contact Bronwyn Perryman, Project Coordinator on 1800 262 062 or via email
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