Protecting the Mallee's important Major Mitchell's Cockatoos

Monday 12 July, 2021

Innovative work carving hollows into trees and controlling galahs has increased the survival chances of Victoria’s most important population of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos at Pine Plains in Wyperfeld National Park.

The beautiful and colourful Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo is critically endangered in Victoria due to a decrease in its abundance and distribution after the 2014 fires in the Mallee. The fires destroyed 93 per cent of the known cavity bearing Slender Cypress Pines and more than two thirds of the Major Mitchell’s habitat.
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo. Photo credit: Dr Victor Hurley

The Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo relies on deep cavities in Slender Cypress Pine trees for nesting. Typically, only older trees produce cavities large enough for successful nesting, some of them are approximately 170 years. 

Due to the shortage of trees with natural hollows in them, a technique to create new hollows was developed by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Dr. Victor Hurley in 2015.  

Hollows are carefully carved into suitable trees with wood carving tools to provide the cockatoos with a protected place to nest and create more homes for them in the short term, while revegetation programs aim to provide more trees over the longer term. 

“These new hollows have proven to provide better habitat for the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo than standard nest boxes as they are more durable and require less maintenance” said Dr Hurley
Tree cavity in Slender Cypress Pine

Tree hollow carved in a Slender Cyprus Pine. Photo credit: Dr Victor Hurley

However, over abundant native animals such as Galahs can outcompete other native animal species such as the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, in this case for food and nests in tree hollows.

“A control program in 2020 reduced the number of Galahs in the area to allow the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo to occupy and breed in hollows where Galahs have been removed” said Brendan Rodgers, Parks Victoria Total Grazing Management Coordinator.

“This work is crucial to ensuring the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo has the best chance of survival in this area” Mr Rodgers said.

A tree hollows monitoring program, led by DELWP, tracked the impacts of Galahs in Wyperfeld National Park over the last 25 years. During this time the number of breeding pairs of Galahs in surveyed trees increased from one to as many as 80 pairs in some years, while the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo population reduced from 63 to 27 pairs. 

“A key element in the conservation of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo is the removal of Galahs.  Our long-term monitoring has shown that by doing this, it has increased the numbers of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos in Pine Plains” Dr Hurley said.
Pair of cockatoos inspect tree cavity

Pair of cockatoos inspecting a tree cavity. Photo credit: Dr Victor Hurley.

Parks Victoria has introduced a Galah control program to help control Galah numbers and increase the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo population in Victoria.

This project has been funded by two Victorian Government programs: Biodiversity Response Planning (BRP) program and Reducing Bushfire Risk program for native vegetation improvement.

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