Encouraging life into your garden: planting for black cockatoos

I just had one of those awesome moments, as I watched a black cockatoo drink from my new birdbath for the first time. And I thought I’d share some big tips for getting these wonderful and rare birds into your garden…

First pageHelp save an entire species, and get free help in the garden in exchange? That’s a deal that’s hard to refuse!

We’re talking about the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris). Of the three black cockatoo species in the South-West of Western Australia, Carnaby’s is the most threatened, listed as ‘Endangered’ under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. These cheeky birds, punctuating Perth skies with their raucous ‘wee-lar’ calls during the first half of each year, are up against tough odds. They breed in the wheatbelt, using hollows in mature trees as nests to raise their chicks. In some areas more than 90% of the native vegetation has been cleared. After breeding they return to the coastal plain, where widespread clearing for urban areas and agriculture has caused a dramatic loss of feed habitat.

Numbers of this iconic species have halved since the 1960s, they have vanished from one-third of their former range, and it is thought that most of the birds we see today are too old to breed. Will our children or grandchildren farewell the last of these beautiful birds?

Thankfully, our gardens are opportunities for vital urban habitat. Carnaby’s eat seeds, flowers and insect larvae. They feed on some of our beautiful native plants, such as banksias, hakeas and grevilleas, as well as the fabulous marri (Corymbia calophyllla). Of course, not everyone can fit a marri tree in their garden, but here are some striking and adaptable options that Carnaby’s will love.

The basics

  • Choose the right plant for your situation – look at the selections below, peruse the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s (DPaW’s) fabulous website, and look for the ‘Choose for Black-Cockatoos’ label in nurseries.
  • Use prickly hedges to provide shelter. If planting low plants, make sure Carnaby’s will feel safe enough to come to the ground.
  • Don’t place food plants next to roads. Birds can get hit by traffic.
  • Supply fresh water in your garden.

 Our top selections

Banksia

We are blessed to have a gorgeous range of banksias available to us. They are all listed as High Priority plants for Carnaby’s by DPaW. Carnaby’s eat the seeds and sometimes the flowers. As with all banksias, avoid fertilisers with high levels of phosphorus. The following Perth local native species are also available in dwarf forms: Slender banksia (Banksia attenuata), Firewood banksia (Banksia menziesii) and Acorn banksia (Banksia prionotes).

Hakea

Offering heaps of nectar and safe habitat, hakeas are fabulous additions to our gardens. Try planting in ‘thickets’ so that Carnaby’s can feel secure. Species to try include Two leaf hakea (Hakea trifurcata), Pin-cushion hakea (Hakea laurina) and Honeybush (Hakea lissocarpha). Honeybush is the only hakea listed here to be classed as Medium rather than High Priority for Carnaby’s, but we’ve included it because of it’s incredible honey scent.

Grevillea

The grevillea family offers several shrub species, from small to tall, which are classed as Medium Priority for Carnaby’s. As so many other native birds also find grevillea flowers highly attractive, they are well worth considering if you have the space. Information on the various species can be obtained at selected nurseries and on-line.

 

When mindfully selecting plants for your garden you can be involved in protecting this endangered species and enjoy the special moments when flocks take over your garden every year. But what about the promised free help? Well, they will control many pests and they prune plants perfectly in order to maximise flowering the following season. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet learnt to sweep up after themselves…

This article was first published in the Spring 2016 Issue 95 of For People & Plants, co-written with Douglas Betts, a Kings Park Volunteer Master Gardener like myself. Images on the first page (as shown here) by the amazingly talented Sallyanne Cousans.

7 thoughts on “Encouraging life into your garden: planting for black cockatoos

  1. Such beautiful birds. The local primary school has signs up asking people to register sightings of black cockatoos. They also use an adjoining bushland (we’re very lucky to have this, so close to the city) to educate students on wildlife issues. With foresight like this, I’d like to think there’s hope that future generations will take care of our endangered species. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s