5 July 2022


This image of one of Australia’s rarest cockatoos had conservationists high-fiving in the Northern Rivers Region of New South Wales.

It shows a male glossy black-cockatoo in all his splendour, bright red panels on show.

But it’s a photograph ecologists were starting to fear might never be taken after searching for the elusive birds for almost three months without success.

Glossies Northern Rivers is an ambitious project to save the species across the region, with support from the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, as part of its Regenerate Australia program. 

The first step was finding remaining glossy black-cockatoos, but team members faced an uphill challenge.

How do you find a rare cockatoo in an area of nearly 21,000 square kilometres?

They were already declining in the Northern Rivers due to a reduction in the she-oaks they rely on for food and hollow-bearing eucalypts needed for nesting.

To make matters worse, the 2019-2020 fires impacted as much as 50% of the region’s suitable glossy black habitat.

“We had no idea how many birds were left. Glossy black-cockatoos have become a rare sight in the Northern Rivers, which was evident throughout our field surveys,” said Harry Hackett, Glossies Northern Rivers Project Manager, Wildbnb. 

“Surveys began in February 2022 when the team visited numerous locations of previous glossy sightings."

“We identified several feed trees by the tell-tale sign of chewed she-oak cones, but the birds remained elusive."

“As the search rolled on, we continued finding chewed she-oak cones, but by late March, we were yet to see any glossies."

“During the Great Glossy Count on March 26, about 25 volunteers were in the field in our area, surveying for the birds. Still, none were found."

“The team was a little concerned glossies were not turning up where we thought they might be. We reminded ourselves we were dealing with a threatened species. Loss of habitat caused by the fires would have dislocated the birds, and who knows the impacts of the catastrophic rain and flooding events across the Northern Rivers earlier this year. We pushed on, determined as ever to find them."

Harry Hackett, Dave Rawlins, and Locky Cooper searching for glossy black-cockatoos
© Harry Hackett
© Harry Hackett

“The month of May showed us that persistence pays off. In combination with some fantastic intel from Glossy Squad members - the citizen scientists supporting the project - the team zeroed in on one particular spot in Bogangar in the Tweed Shire where we found a small cluster of feed trees with recently chewed cones."

“We returned to the same spot several days later, and there they were, a male and female pair of glossies perched in the trees above. After searching for just shy of three months, finally success. We couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces,” she said.

They dubbed the male “Barry” and the female “The Baroness”.

Barry, a male glossy black-cockatoo feeding on she-oak
© Locky Cooper / Pixofnature.com
The Baroness. a female glossy black-cockatoo feeding on she-oak
© Locky Cooper / Pixofnature.com

“To add to the excitement, a video sent in from a citizen scientist confirmed a third bird within the same vicinity days later,” Ms Hackett said.

It is hoped more citizen scientists will join the Glossy Squad to help collect data.

“We want people who live in the Northern Rivers to get behind the project by letting the team know when they find a glossy or its feeding habitat by logging it on the Birdata app,” Ms Hackett said. 

"Glossies are commonly mistaken for yellow-tailed black-cockatoos or red-tailed black-cockatoos, their larger and much noisier cousins, so we recommend people brush up on their glossy I.D. skills before venturing out to search for the birds," she said.

A male yellow-tailed black-cockatoo hangs upside down on a tree branch while it spreads its wings and tail.
© Locky Cooper / Pixofnature.com
Forest red-tailed black cockatoos perched on a tree branch (1000px)
© Keith Lightbody

Dr Leonie Valentine, WWF-Australia Species and Conservation Senior Manager said if we are to save the glossy, we must preserve and grow its habitat.

“Glossies are fussy eaters with strict housing needs. They only feed on the seeds of certain types of she-oak, and they only nest in hollows of old-growth forest trees. These habitats take years to grow, so we cannot afford to lose anymore," she said.

“We must locate where the birds are now and the habitat they are using to protect them from future losses."

“However, if we want the glossy to survive and thrive, we must also restore what was lost during the 2019-2020 bushfires."

“To achieve this, we intend to install habitat nest boxes and plant she-oak trees in the next two years.”

Searching for glossies and their habitat takes time and effort. Glossies Northern Rivers hopes to solve this issue by applying a range of methods. 

“As well as field surveys, we’re working with Dr Daniella Teixeira, Research Fellow with QUT and glossy black-cockatoo expert, using monitoring devices to record glossy sounds and calls,” Ms Hackett said.  

“We’re also supporting a fantastic initiative, led by Wilsons Creek Huonbrook Landcare, to map existing food resources available to glossies in the Northern Rivers following the 2019-2020 bushfires. That will identify areas where trees were lost to fire and gaps in feed tree dispersal, which will inform future feed tree planting strategies.”

If you are interested in getting involved, head to https://wildbnb.com.au/glossies-northern-rivers.

About Saving our Species

Today, we’re at risk of losing a thousand of our state’s native animals and plants. Through the Saving our Species program, the NSW Government is working to secure a future for our threatened species in the wild for the next 100 years. Saving our Species is a movement of volunteers, scientists and community groups, determined to make a difference for Australia’s unique plants and animals. To find out more, or to join the Saving our Species movement, visit environment.nsw.gov.au/sos

About Regenerate Australia

Regenerate Australia is the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in Australia’s history. Launched by WWF-Australia in October 2020, the multi-year program will rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and help to future-proof Australia against the impacts of a changing climate. 

You can add your support and help Regenerate Australia.

About Wildbnb Wildlife Habitat

Wildbnb designs, produces, installs and monitors hollow habitat for Australia’s wildlife. Where it’s urgently needed…..and everywhere else. We specialise in hollow-dependant threatened species research recovery projects and large-scale rapid response habitat deployments in regenerating and fire-impacted natural landscapes. Wildbnb builds enduring partnerships with organisations, landholders and community in creating wildlife safe havens to support our precious native species with a long-term approach. To find out more about Wildbnb projects, visit https://wildbnb.com.au/