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gang-gang cockatoo

Nesting study - Ngunnawal land

how Red hill regenerators are saving the gang-gang

Ngunnawal land

Red Hill is the ridge of Box-gum woodland you see on the news most nights as the backdrop to Parliament House. More importantly, for project coordinator Michael Mulvaney and his Landcare Group, Red Hill Regenerators, it’s the Gang-gang capital of the world. Along with Canberra Nature Map and Atlas of Life, Red Hill Regenerators are leading a citizen science nesting study into these lovely cockatoos to better manage their conservation.

The Gang-gang (Callocephalon fimbriatum) is long-lived with a lifespan of 65 years. They spend a few years hanging out with a Gang-gang gang of teenagers, until they find their mate-for-life. 

Why is the Gang-Gang at risk? 

Within three generations - about 21 years - the Gang-gang population has declined by around 69%. It’s a shocking rate of decline, but because of climate change, it’s also not so surprising that this cool temperate species is so greatly at risk. 

Over the week of Canberra’s hottest temperatures ever (which will become normal with the predicted 1.5 degree rise in global temperature), Red Hill Regenerators observed the death of two chicks - probably from heat exhaustion - while a further four chicks left their nest prematurely, falling helplessly to the ground. Fortunately chicks can be successfully returned to their hollows and will be accepted by parents and fledge.

The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 levelled a further devastating blow to the Gang-gang, destroying habitat and critically reducing the number of hollows the birds can use for nesting. Gang-gangs are quite fussy about the dimensions of the hollows they use and they take a long time to form. They are increasingly scarce - not just because of fires but also clearing and logging of the bigger trees across much of the birds’ range.  There is a housing shortage, and competition from other hollow-nesters such as the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and Brushtail Possum is a real issue. 

Climate change has also brought heavier and more frequent spring and summer storms that can flood nest sites, potentially beyond the Gang-gangs' ability to cope.

Since the fires, it’s estimated that Gang-gang distribution has been reduced by 28-36%, the carrying capacity for the species has gone down by 40%, and there’s been a 10% reduction of the overall population. 

Here Don Fletcher replaces a chick that fell out of nest prematurely and was helpless on the ground. 

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This is the little guy. He was helpless on the ground, but the after Don returned him to his hollow, he successfully fledged the next day!

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Regeneration has its ups and downs. 

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What are red hill regenerators doing to save the gang-gang?

Working with Canberra Nature Map and a whole lot of citizen scientists, Red Hill Regenerators have focused on finding and monitoring nest hollows in the Canberra area. By finding out where the core breeding areas are, they’ve been able to prevent proposed further land clearance and increase the conservation management of Gang-gang habitat.

 

They've also discovered a lot of useful information about what the Gang-gangs need to nest - including what trees they prefer, how high they like their hollows and the size of the hollows. Those dimensions are really important in helping other groups to design and build PVC nest tubes to create more spaces for the birds to breed. 

Bucking the national decline in the Gang-gang population, the numbers in Canberra have been fairly stable. ‘That’s why we have a sense of both responsibility and privilege,’ says Michael Mulvaney. ‘We hope that what we’ve discovered helps turn around the dramatic decline the Gang-gang is experiencing elsewhere.’

The nesting study of the Red Hill Regenerators is now being repeated across the birds’ range by other interested groups. A collaboration of the Eurobodalla Local Government, the ACT Government, two Men’s Groups and Landcarers is currently trialing whether Gang-gangs will use the nest boxes developed from information gained through the survey.

The Big Picture Collective is excited to be able to support the research and conservation efforts helping save these charismatic, small cockatoos. We donate a portion of every sale of Julie’s Gang-gang portrait to Michael Mulvaney and the Red Hill Regenerators. 

You can help in the study by uploading images of any Gang-gang sightings to the Canberra nature map or inaturalist websites. 

Red Hill Regenerators are particularly keen to know about sightings of Gang-gangs feeding or in and around hollows, but any sighting is worth recording. 

every one of julie's limited edition gang-gang portraits sold helps to fund the conservation work of red hill regenerators.

There is something very charming about the Gang-gang Cockatoos, recently listed as a vulnerable species in New South Wales.

‘I feel very lucky that they often visit our place in the Blue Mountains, where they like to feast on the Peppermint Gums around my studio,’ says artist Julie Paterson. ‘They are not flashy birds - you only really know they are around because you hear them, making quiet creaky sounds like rusty old farm gates, opening and closing in the distance. They are always in pairs, and sometimes we spot them snuggling up to each other on a branch, like fond old couples on a park bench.’

Julie has painted a male Gang-gang with his distinctive red crest. She thinks he looks a bit like the lead singer from Simply Red, but better looking.

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