When I was young, I remember, as all good stories begin, living in the Perth suburb of Bentley in the middle of last century. Opposite one of the many pine plantations which dotted the outer Perth landscape. My brother broke his arm one day, climbing those trees. We walked through them every day on our way to play cricket “down on the oval”.
We never took much notice of the wildlife there.
That was in the days before I knew the term “Monoculture”.
There were probably snakes, but we never saw them. There were some blue-tongued skinks which were too slow to get out of our way. In Spring I remember hearing the song of the Pallid Cuckoo although it was never seen. There were magpies and mudlarks and occasional flashes of green as 28’s, the ring-necked parrots, flew past.
Then there were the Black Cockies. Large, noisy flocks of Black Cockies!
In Spring and Autumn both Red and White Tailed Cockatoos would fly over head, in flocks of hundreds and thousands. If they were Red Tailed Cockies then we knew it was going to rain!
Sunday Times, 29 Apr, 1945
We never cared what the “Experts” said. We just knew that rain was on the way if those black cockies were flying inland.
In flocks a hundred yards wide and hundreds of yards long, these screeching, noisy birds would fly overhead.
A “yard”? That is an “old-person” word which meant a “metre”.
For me they were an matter of slight interest. They flew over, they flew back. They were noisy and yet they connected us all with nature.
The orchardists were not happy with them. It was way back in 1925 that the first warning signs appeared. Mr Alfred Burvill, MLC for the Albany/Mt Barker district (I went to High School with his grand daughter – hello Muriel) was reported as saying;
Western Mail, 24 Sep, 1925
Black Cockatoos became so unpopular that a bounty was placed on their head.
Declared vermin, they were in the same category as Dingoes and Foxes. And the menace was seen not only on the South Coast but also in the heart of the South-West.
Somehow those hungry, pesky Black Cockies kept reappearing every year.
While guns could remove a few each year, their main food supply, and their breeding grounds were in the untracked expanses of the South West Marri, Jarrah and Karri forests. This was where there were nice deep holes in the trunks of mature and dead Eucalypts for these birds to use as nests. The numbers of Black Cockatoos, both red and white tailed, continued to be large.
Then something different happened and, while not aimed at the Cockatoos, life in the forest began to disappear. While trees had been being cut from the forests for more than a hundred years, the damage caused was small. Big old trees were left. The nesting places were safe.
Until Bunnings and Millars began using a new method of harvesting called “Clear-felling”. This was, and is, what it says. An area of several hectares of Karri or Jarrah is cleared in a single day, using bulldozers and chains. Everything, even the oldest trees are destroyed. All the habitats for native bird, mammal and reptile life is destroyed. The timber, much of which is several hundred years old, is turned into wood chips and sold off for around $13 a Tonne!
Adding to this destruction is the newer industry of strip mining which does the same thing. Now the Marri forests near Capel are being destroyed. These were the final hopes for this rapidly disappearing bird.
There are almost no Black Cockatoos left in the wild. So few to fly across our sky.
I now live in Maylands, North of the Swan River and I have a flock of 5! Yes! FIVE red tails which fly past. Almost the last of the thousands which lived in an around the Metropolitan area.
It is easier to see these beautiful birds in captivity than it is to see them in the wild where each year there are less.
The top photo in this story was taken at Whiteman Park and I have seen more captive birds in the Perth Zoo. There are probably other bird parks and private zoos with more of this wild bird held captive in cages.
Yet it could be that this is the only way we will be able to stop its extinction.
By keeping them in cages until our current “destroy and develop” madness has ended and then releasing their descendants back into the wild. Or maybe creating thousands of artificial tree hollows in the areas which are now empty wastelands, or along the fence-lines of the farmers’ paddocks.
Perhaps my Great Grand Children will have the pleasure of seeing future flocks of Calyptorhynchus banksii naso in their hundreds.
Sadly, I know I shall never see that sight again.