“It was exciting but it was also tinged with sadness because of the reasons they are here. It’s hard to celebrate seeing such a rare, beautiful bird when you know its presence is directly as a result of the loss of its home due to the bushfires.”
The unprecedented summer bushfires destroyed much of the cockatoo’s habitat, and the fact this non-migratory bird has flown 450 kilometres west of its usual range is a sign of how difficult it is for it to find food.
The bushfires had a devastating effect on many other bird species too: “We know birds died in their millions,” says Mr Dooley. “Any species which lost more than 30 per cent of its range is of particular concern because that puts it on a likely trajectory to be considered for listing as a threatened species.”
While coronavirus restrictions have stopped BirdLife staff and volunteers from getting out into the field to establish the extent of the loss, the organisation has done a desktop analysis using more than 20 years of records to match bird habitat against maps of the fires.
After the fires, some locals reported seeing these normally shy birds around Mallacoota, so it was clear some had survived. And in the past couple of weeks, there have been several sightings of birds in Melbourne’s south-east, including three seen in Langwarrin and a single adult male reported in Keysborough and Braeside.
The Glossy Black-Cockatoo is the smallest of the five black-cockatoos, with a brown-black head, neck and body, with red or orange-red tail panels. It’s also known as the Casuarina cockatoo, because it feeds almost exclusively on the seeds of the casuarina, or “she oak” trees.
They lived in the Melbourne region when Victoria was first colonised, but were not seen there after the 1870s, when vast tracts of casuarina were cut down to fuel the lime kilns making bricks for colonial Melbourne.
Glossy black cockatoos on Kangaroo Island (a different subspecies to the Victorian one) made the news this week, after birds that survived the intense bushfires had started breeding, with 23 chicks found.
BirdLife Australia is working on an artificial nesting hollow project in East Gippsland to encourage these hollow-nesting birds to breed in areas where all their nesting trees have been badly damaged or totally destroyed.
Dooley said protecting the remaining habitat was essential: “If you have any concern, any care whatsoever, in maintaining our unique wildlife then it’s just madness we’re logging these areas.”
Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.