“I don’t think many people know they exist”: How mistaken identity threatens Baudin’s cockatoo | Birds
IIn the early 1830s, painter Edward Lear painstakingly illustrated a black cockatoo, based on a specimen collected by French explorer Nicholas Baudin in southwest Western Australia in 1804.
The image, which would become the holotype of Baudin’s cockatoo, was published in Illustrations of the psittacidae family, or parrots (1832). In Lear’s time, the Baudins were believed to be the only species of black cockatoo with a white tail. Another black cockatoo with a white tail, called Carnaby’s, has been classified as a subspecies. But more than a century later, scientists began to believe that the differences between the two birds were far too great for them to be considered a single species. they reproduce differently, do not eat the same food and occupy different habitats. The Carnaby was declared a separate species in 1979.
Decades later, Australian ornithologists scrutinized Lear’s paintings of birds and noticed that the painter tended to exaggerate the size of the beak. Physically, the main difference between a Baudin and a Carnaby is its beak: the Baudin’s cockatoo has a long, thin beak compared to the stocky beak of the Carnaby. Bird watchers wondered if the specimen Lear painted and named Baudin was a Carnaby all the time?
When the original specimen painted by Lear was located, in a hidden collection in Liverpool, UK, their suspicions were confirmed: the holotype we were referring to for Baudin’s cockatoos was in fact painted from a specimen of Short-billed Carnaby Cockatoo.
This may seem meaningful only to taxonomists, but mixing is essential to understanding the challenges facing the Baudins today. The fact that we find it difficult to tell the difference between the two species of white-tailed cockatoo means that the much less common Baudin might go extinct without most of us even noticing.
Le Baudin is by far the least known of the three black cockatoo species in WA. Carnaby’s can often be found hovering through Perth’s cityscapes, meaning people know it a lot better, despite the small population. In contrast, Woodland Baudins prefer the protection of a high roost, making them a difficult research subject.
“They’re less visible, there’s a lot less research on them compared to Carnaby’s and they’re a lot less well-known, so I think they’re a little bit overlooked,” says Adam Peck, Black Cockatoo Project Coordinator at Birdlife Australia .
The annual Great Cocky Count, a long-term citizen science survey, can barely get a feel for their population. âWe don’t have as many ideas about population trends [for the Baudinâs] because it is in fact very difficult to distinguish Carnaby and Baudin. Many of our surveyors record them as black cockies with white tail, ârather than specifying, says Peck.
The Great Cocky Count was first coordinated by Western Australian Museum black cockatoo expert Ron Johnstone in 2010. Unlike most people, Johnstone knows the Baudins well enough to identify them without even looking at them. He says the Baudins are surgeons with Marri and Karri’s nuts and leave very little trash, their cries differ from those of a Carnaby and they are selective about their dorms, which must be old.
âWe have seen significant declines at the traditional resting sites that we have been monitoring for 25 years. We would get between 900 and 1,200 birds on some of these Wongong Valley roosts. [in the past]. Now we’re getting 20-30, and that information has helped us improve their conservation status from Vulnerable to Endangered in 2018. âAccording to BirdLife figures, this specific population has declined by 10% every year.
Johnstone is a member of the National Three Species of Black Cockatoo Recovery Team in Southwest Washington State. The combined Baudin, Carnaby and Forest Redtail recovery plan was created in 2008 and set a 10-year goal of stabilizing or increasing Baudin populations. In his role, Johnstone and other members of the recovery team created educational resources for the orchards, discussed the impact of land clearing with the department, and closely followed Baudin’s decline. Johnstone says it’s hard to say whether the stimulus package is working and the government is working “excruciatingly” slowly.
âWe see less and less of Baudin now. Even if you go to a state forest where there were large herds, you can’t see them anymore, âsays Glenn Dewhurst, founder of Kaarakin, the only black cockatoo rehabilitation center in Western Australia.
âAs long as people see white-tailed cockatoos, they don’t care if the Baudins leave, which is sad. The mentality is to just protect Carnaby’s.
Kaarakin’s education manager, Sam Clarke, took to social media in April to express his concerns for the Baudins. Clarke worked closely with Princess Rex de Baudin, an education bird in Kaarakin who entered the center after a car strike. âPeople assume she’s a Carnaby’s. Very few people come to ask if it’s a Baudinâ¦ now that I think about it, no one has.
“I don’t think a lot of people know they exist, and I think that’s one of the biggest injustices out there, which is why Rex is so important.”
Kaarakin believes that shooting from the orchards is the biggest problem. Until the 1960s, Baudins had a bounty on their heads and despite their populations having been in decline for over a decade, the Baudin’s cockatoo remained on the list of pests declared by the Ministry of Washington State Agriculture and Food through 2016.
A detailed study of the orchards’ views towards the Baudins from 2007 onwards is grim. “Although most of the growers who responded to the survey knew that it was an endangered species, less than half agreed that Baudin’s cockatoo should be protected and many requested that the cockatoos are slaughtered in the comments section of the investigation, “the newspaper read.
It is difficult to say exactly how many are lost to the shootings. âA significant number are shot each year, but we don’t really know how many. For obvious reasons, this activity is covered up and few people find out the numbers, âPeck explains.
Johnstone says shooting is primarily a problem among older generations of tree growers and believes other factors such as land clearing, mining, climate change and competition with invasive species pose a greater threat to Baudin’s future.
According to the Western Australia Forest Alliance, 7,500 hectares of forests in Jarrah and Karri, homeland of the Baudins, are felled or cleared each year. Then there are the threats posed by altered fire regimes and climate change, which are pushing black cockatoos south. Johnstone says he’s much less optimistic that the species can survive than he once was.
âEven looking at what’s going on and all the work we’re doing, we’re still seeing numbers going down,â he says.
Most fear that the Baudins will slowly disappear. “Because a lot of people see white tails and can’t tell the difference between Baudin and Carnaby,” Peck explains, “the Baudins might disappear from the radar.”
The Guardian / BirdLife Australia Bird of the Year poll for 2021 will start on September 27 with a list of 50 shortlisted species.