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Byron Shire
May 24, 2024

Rare black cockatoo hatches and fledges in Tweed Valley

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The father Mr Prez (left) and mother Prez (right). Photo supplied

The Northern Rivers is home to the vulnerable south-eastern glossy black cockatoo, also known as glossies, and citizen scientists may prove key to spotting and helping the species survive. 

Before the Black Summer fires of 2019–20 the glossy was already in decline but the fires impacted as much as 50 per cent of the Northern Rivers’ glossy black-cockatoo habitat. 

Glossies are the smallest of Australia’s Black-Cockatoos and there are brownish-black in colour and their call is quite different from the wailing, melancholic call of the yellow-tailed,Mark Symons from WWF-Australia told The Echo

Prez lands on the nesting tree. Photo supplied

Last year, the Glossies Northern Rivers team conducted surveys across the Northern Rivers for nearly three months before any glossies were even sighted.

‘So the discovery of an active nest was a huge win for an ambitious project to save the species across the region,’ said Harry Hackett, Glossies Northern Rivers Project Manager, Wildbnb.

The breeding pair was found on 3 August, 2022 in the Tweed Valley thanks to citizen scientists from the ‘Glossy Squad’ – everyday people helping the project by documenting sightings of glossies.

Harry Hackett, Janaki Pearson, and Locky Cooper excited moments after finding the nest. Photo supplied

‘Here was an incredible learning opportunity because the team had never before witnessed an active nest. It really felt like we’d struck gold,’ said Ms Hackett.

The breeding pair were called mother Prez and father Mr Prez and a discrete sensor camera was installed for observations. 

Hollow log used for nesting. Photo supplied

‘In a hollow in a dead tree, Prez incubated her single egg virtually non-stop for about 30 days. Mr Prez foraged all day, returning at dusk. Prez would fly out to meet him, get her daily feed of regurgitated she-oak seeds, and immediately return to the nest,’ said a spokesperson for the team. 

Prez warns off a predator during the night to protect Firefly. Photo supplied

‘On a few evenings, the sensor camera captured Prez in full predator-defence mode with very clear ‘back off’ warnings to a threat out of the camera shot – possibly possums which are known to eat eggs or chicks.’

Once the egg hatched, Prez initially remained in the nest with the chick which the team named ‘Firefly’ to keep her warm. Each evening, Mr Prez fed his partner who would then further grind up the tiny she-oak seeds into a paste to feed their chick.

Prez warns off a predator during the night to protect Firefly. Photo supplied

The female chicks name Firefly was inspired by a night soon after the nest was discovered when the surrounding forest erupted with tiny sparkling-red fireflies.

‘The team placed a sheet-metal collar around the base of the nest tree to prevent goannas – the other main predator – from reaching Firefly.’

The female chick dubbed ‘Firefly’ waits to be fed. Photo supplied

When Firefly was old enough to regulate her own body temperature and sit up by herself, Prez would leave the nest with Mr Prez at dawn, spend all day foraging with him and return to the nest at dusk to feed the nestling.

Prez would call out on approach prompting Firefly to launch into her vigorous begging call, desperate to be fed.

‘With a full tummy and back down inside the hollow, Firefly could be heard flapping her wings building strength for the day she would leave the nest,’ said the team. 

At dusk on Wednesday 26 October 2022, that day arrived. Witnessed by Glossy Squad members, the much anticipated event was over in seconds. Firefly flew off with her parents. Glossy fledglings are completely reliant on, and fed by, both parents for 3 to 4 months after leaving the nest – so the team knew she was in good hands. 

‘Our hearts were singing that night. I went to bed smiling ear to ear. All I could think was “Go well little Firefly, may your life be long, and may the survival of your species be helped by the great work of so many people and organisations across our region and all of South East Australia”. Because we do care and because we can take action that makes a real impact,’ Ms Hackett said. 

It’s a sentiment shared by Dr Leonie Valentine, Senior Manager, Species Conservation, WWF-Australia 

When her mother returned Firefly would launch into vigorous calls begging to be fed. Photo supplied

‘The story of Firefly surviving to fledging is so uplifting – and shows how people truly care about many of our unique Australian species.    

‘Glossy black-cockatoos, spectacular long-lived birds, were already in decline throughout south-eastern Australia, when the catastrophic bushfires severely impacted the species. 

‘They feed almost exclusively on the seeds from Allocasuarina (she-oak) trees and many were destroyed as were old growth eucalypts with the hollows they require for breeding. 

‘Then in another blow, the 2022 floods further impacted glossy nesting and feeding habitat in the Northern Rivers. 

‘We’re partnering with Glossies Northern Rivers to assist the recovery of glossies in the region by identifying remaining critical habitat, providing artificial nesting hollows to boost breeding success, and replanting critical food trees,’ Dr Valentine said.  

The project works closely with rangers from Minyumai Indigenous Protected Area, which covers over 2,100 hectares and is owned and managed by the Bandjalang people of the Bundjalung Nation. 

In their culture, glossy black-cockatoos are called gehrr. The women rangers at Minyumai have taken a lead role in surveying for nest hollows, finding birds and mapping glossy food trees.  

‘Since working with the Wildbnb team/Glossy Squad I have found a new passion working to help save the glossy black-cockatoos, gehrr, and gained skills on how to find their feed trees, bilung, and their nesting habitat. Working out on Country with the rangers has been a fun experience from installing the nest boxes, to finding big trees for hollow audits, to identifying the birds by their distinctive patterns and calls. Harry Hackett has been an amazing glossy mentor and I wish to continue working on the project alongside her as well as the Wildbnb team,’ said Minyumai Ranger Maitland Wilson.

The father Mr Prez (left) and mother Prez (right). Photo supplied

The Wildbnb team has installed 48 artificial nest hollows across the region. There’s a chance the dead tree Prez and Mr Prez nested in could topple over. So hollow alternatives were placed beside the nest site, ready for these amazing birds when they return to breed again.

A squirrel glider, listed as vulnerable in NSW, inhabiting a glossy nest box. Photo supplied

It’s hoped other breeding pairs will join them because glossies – who mate for life – prefer to nest near other glossy nests.

‘I wish I had been able to witness Firefly’s first flight.  Regardless, I am thrilled that she emerged, and I sincerely hope enough habitat remains and can be restored so that Firefly can call the Northern Rivers home for life,’ Dr Valentine said.

Help Regenerate Australia’s wildlife by donating to WWF-Australia today: https://wwf.org.au/donate/tax-appeal/.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. What wonderful story about the black cockatoos and the people that look after these wild birds on the nest. thank goodness for these dedicated people and the wonderful work they do to try and save our endangered wildlife.

  2. Bless these people. As we destroy our earth bit by bit there are those that work tirelessly to preserve. These birds are incredible.

  3. Recently seen 2 flying over lemon tree passage, and landing on a small sheoak island ( bull island) 👏😁

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