“If we plant it, hopefully they will come” – enticing rare Kangaroo Island glossies back to the mainland

WWF glossies
WWF glossies

Greening Australia and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia are teaming up to plant more than 19,000 food and nesting trees to entice one of the nation’s rarest birds back to the mainland.

Kangaroo Island is the last refuge for the South Australian subspecies of glossy black-cockatoo – which is smaller but has a bigger bill than glossies in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Ben Sanders, Ed Vercoe, & Andrew Woodroffe among 1,000s of newly planted sheoaks to hopefully entice glossies back to the mainland.

In 1995 the subspecies was heading towards extinction with fewer than 200 SA glossies left on Kangaroo Island. The Kangaroo Island Glossy Black-Cockatoo Recovery Program, with local community support, turned that around boosting the population to about 454 by 2020.

But in a major setback, the 2019-20 fires burned 54% of feeding habitat and 38.5% of known nests on Kangaroo Island, according to the KI Glossies Recovery Program. With reduced food supplies, flock sizes in some fire impacted areas on western Kangaroo Island are now smaller.

The fires highlighted an urgent need to reestablish habitat for glossies on the Fleurieu Peninsula, just across from Kangaroo Island.

It would improve the species’ resilience by providing additional foraging and breeding grounds, hopefully increasing numbers and spreading out the population.

The glossy flock on eastern Kangaroo Island, unaffected by the fires and closer to the Fleurieu, continues to grow  and it is hoped they will expand their range across Backstairs Passage if enough habitat is created.

Ed Vercoe talks to Greening Australia’s Andrew Woodroffe, Ed Vercoe among the new plantings, WWF’s Ben Sanders helping to plant

SA glossies – which feed almost exclusively on seeds from drooping sheoaks – disappeared from the mainland in the 1970s after decades of clearing decimated sheoak woodlands.

“On the Fleurieu alone, there were 22,000 hectares of sheoak woodland but only about 2% remains. Greening Australia and WWF are rebuilding quality habitat and we’re really excited that this could potentially bring glossy black-cockatoos back to the mainland,” said Ben Sanders, forests program manager, WWF-Australia.

The timing is right with a confirmed sighting of a glossy visiting Fleurieu Peninsula last year, likely in search of a new food source following the fires.

“If we plant it, hopefully they will come, make little cockatoo babies, and then spread out and multiply,” said Andrew Woodroffe, Senior Program Officer with Greening Australia.

In total 19,000 trees, across three sites, are being planted. They’re a mix of drooping sheoaks for food and eucalypts such as the river red gum and pink gum to one day provide nesting hollows.

At Ed Vercoe’s cattle and olive farm in Carrickalinga, Traditional Owner workers organised by RAW Group helped to plant 5,900 trees. Mr Vercoe is restoring vegetation, cleared before he took over the farm, to benefit wildlife and his pasture.

“It always stuns me how many trees must have been cut down. It seems the right thing to do to put some back. If we saw glossy black-cockatoos back here again, it’d be fantastic.

“With the high winds here the soil can go from very wet to very dry in a matter of hours. If the trees block wind and hold water on the upper slopes it will help the pasture.

“I think every farmer should have a look at their property and work out which areas would benefit from revegetation. Don’t be scared of it. Just get some trees in the ground – it can only be good,” he said.

Mr Woodroffe said the sites chosen and even the seeds sourced are the result of collaborative analysis and modelling with local experts, led by Greening Australia.

“First we identified high priority locations to restore sheoak woodland on the Fleurieu, based on the needs and preferences of glossies and the proximity to Kangaroo Island.

“Then we collected seed from sheoaks in different temperature and rainfall zones of South Australia to make sure the plantings are as ready as possible for whatever climate change brings,” he said.

An example of what the new plantings will look like in time can be found at Fishery Beach where drooping sheoaks have been planted over a 20-year time span.

A growing drooping sheoak woodland at Fishery Beach. More habitat like this will need to be created to bring glossies back to the mainland.

South Australia topped the national Trees Scorecard recently released by WWF-Australia with a score of 65% but still only a rating of average.

“There is plenty of opportunity for South Australia to do better. Restoring enough habitat to bring glossies back to the mainland would be a big start,” said Mr Sanders.

Ben Sanders and Andrew Woodroffe amid a growing stand of drooping sheoaks.
Glossies feed almost exclusively on the seeds in drooping sheoak cones.

Fleurieu landholders who want to discuss planting at their property are encouraged to register their interest in a no-obligation chat at greeningaustralia.org.au/landholders

We all need trees. Add your voice to save our trees to save our future at: wwf.org.au/we-all-need-trees

About WWF-Australia

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia is working to Regenerate Nature by 2030.

Our work is focused on the three pillars of Sky, Country, and Saltwater. Regenerative Sky is our program to secure a healthy climate powered by communities, nature, and renewable energy; Regenerative Country is our program to protect and recover species and habitats; and Regenerative Saltwater is our program to protect oceans and marine wildlife.

With the knowledge and traditions of First Peoples and local communities, we can bring change on a global scale for climate, nature, and people. Help us to Regenerate Nature at wwf.org.au

About Greening Australia

Greening Australia has been restoring Australia’s unique landscapes and protecting biodiversity at scale through collaborative, science-based programs for 40 years. Greening Australia is committed to tackling Australia’s greatest environmental challenges in ways that work for communities, economies and nature; planting millions of native trees and plants, protecting hundreds of native species, and supporting Traditional Owners’ aspirations for restoring country. For more information, visit www.greeningaustralia.org.au.

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