All glossied up

I live with a group of teenagers who come and go, and make plenty of noise and fuss in the morning and evening. They never come in the house though they often fly over and around.

They start the day with a good dose of hooning in a nearby gully, then hanging out on the wire before they park themselves to eat all day until they are ready for more hooning in the evening.

Glossies on the powerline above drooping sheoak trees
Glossies on the powerline above drooping sheoak trees

They are Glossy Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus)endangered under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

It’s no wonder they are in danger. The seeds of the drooping sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata) are the full extent of their diet.

They pick off the sheoak cone with one claw, almost always the left. Then they pull it apart with their massive beak and whip the seeds out with their dexterous tongue. The ‘chewings’ or chewed up remains of the cone, they drop wherever they feed are an indicator of their feeding places.

The group that moves around Penneshaw are mostly sub-adult males, though there’ll be the occasional female and adult male.

Glossy Black-Cockatoo sculpture at Penneshaw School by Dave Clarke
Glossy Black-Cockatoo sculpture at Penneshaw School by Dave Clarke

They have been fostered out from the breeding colony at American River, about 18 kilometres away as the glossy flies. American River still has large gums with hollows as nesting places for the breeding colony; Penneshaw doesn’t. But at American River there’s not enough food for everyone and if you can’t make it in the breeding stakes, you can make yourself scarce.

Another contributor to the endangered status is the bird’s low breeding rate. At best, one young is fledged a year per pair and about half of those survive their first year. The glossy lifespan isn’t yet known.

And as if the species hadn’t boxed itself into enough of an ecological corner, possums were gobbling up eggs and young chicks, large areas of drooping sheoak land were cleared for farming, and feral honeybees were filling hollows with hives.

When the Kangaroo Island Glossy Black-Cockatoo Recovery program began in 1995 the population was estimated at 200 individuals and declining.

Now nesting hollows, including about 100 artificial nest boxes installed across the island, are protected from possums by corrugated iron chastity belts around the trunks of big old trees with nests. And the honeybees are being kept out.

In the latest annual census, helped by 47 volunteers in September this year, many from the Friend of the Glossies group, the number sighted was 356, and there may well be more. It’s the highest number yet.

At least 26 of them hang out around my place, much of the time. They seem to have the odd habit of going back home to American River at Christmas time.

They are a big, lumping, stupid (cf diet regime) bird; as inelegant a flier as you can see. But they are remarkably endearing and it’s a pleasure to have them around.

 

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