9 Mar 2020


Endangered glossy black cockatoos have been spotted nesting in burnt out bushland on Kangaroo Island, giving hope to conservationists who have begun to survey habitat damaged in the recent bushfires.

Staff from Natural Resources Kangaroo Island and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia located three female cockatoos in artificial nest boxes that survived the inferno in Lathami Conservation Park on the north coast of the island.

Karleah Berris from Natural Resources Kangaroo Island said the sightings showed there was some life returning to the blackened landscape.

“It’s amazing to see these cockatoos trying to nest in this burnt area. Incredibly there are healthy pockets of sheoak trees that survived the flames and they’re providing desperately-needed food for these birds,” she said.

Kangaroo Island was estimated to have about 370 glossy black cockatoos prior to the bushfires that began on 20 December. 

Up to 75 per cent of this population, only found on Kangaroo Island, lived within the 210,000 hectare area that was burnt. The burned area also contained nearly 60 per cent of cockatoo feeding habitat and 93 of 130 artificial nest boxes. 

Thanks to funding from WWF-Australia, staff from Natural Resources Kangaroo Island have begun to survey the damaged sites to determine what habitat and nests remain. Several nest boxes were found destroyed during a visit to Lathami Conservation Park.

“Many of our cockatoo pairs rely entirely on artificial nesting boxes to breed, so it’s crucial for us to assess the damage and install new nests where there’s feeding habitat,” Ms Berris said.

The team is also monitoring glossy black cockatoos in habitat that escaped the fires and they observed several pairs feeding and mating during a visit to Cygnet Park.

WWF-Australia’s Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes Darren Grover said a group of up to 14 cockatoos were seen in one tree.

“Some of them were initiating the early stages of breeding, which is amazing to see given the losses that Kangaroo Island and this species have endured over the past few months,” Mr Grover said. 

Glossy black cockatoos mate for life, with pairs maintaining their bond all year round.

Kangaroo Island’s glossy black cockatoo population is the focus of a special recovery program, which began in 1995 when the population was at a low of just 158 individuals. Prior to the recent fires it was one of the most successful conservation projects in Australia, more than doubling the population of glossies that were once found across Southern Australia. The program aims to ensure a viable breeding population persists in South Australia.

While it is still unclear how many cockatoos perished in the fires, Mr Grover said there would be an opportunity to count the remaining population in September.

“Glossy black cockatoos come together to introduce their young to each other in September. This will give the team a chance to conduct a detailed survey of the surviving cockatoos and provide a good indication of how successful this year's breeding season has been,” he said.

Installing artificial nest boxes will be vital in the coming months, as the breeding season generally runs from February to July and cockatoos will be looking for places to nest.

Natural Resources Kangaroo Island will also be planting more drooping sheoak trees to replace those lost in the fires, as the cockatoos feed almost exclusively on the seeds of these trees.  

“If there’s no sheoak, there will be no glossy black cockatoos,” said Ms Berris.

“We can't afford for these cockatoos to be out of food in the years ahead, so we’ll be planting sheoaks in more cleared areas. There’s a lot of work to be done, but this population has recovered before and we’re hopeful it can recover again.”

New Landscape Board Presiding Member Andrew Heinrich welcomed the funding and support from WWF-Australia, saying it has given the recovery program a boost at a crucial time.

“WWF’s support for the endangered glossies is very welcome and has been crucial to the program’s immediate support for the cockatoos,” Mr Heinrich said.

“The team has been able to get survey work underway and will soon start work on post-fire habitat restoration as a direct result of this funding.”

Burnt habitat on Kangaroo Island
© WWF-Aus / Paul Fahy

Natural Resources Kangaroo Island has partnered with Nature Foundation SA to establish a fund to directly support the Glossy Black Cockatoo Recovery Program, making it easier for members of the public to donate. People can help fund the glossy black cockatoo’s recovery here.

People can also help WWF-Australia continue to deploy funds to care for wildlife and restore habitat lost in the fires by donating.