Cockies wreak havoc in Hills

Kim CousinsCountryman

Orchardists in the Perth Hills region are expecting a crop loss of up to $1 million this season because of damage caused by black cockatoos.

Hills Orchard Improvement Group president Bruno Delsimone said up to 30 orchardists had been affected.

"One small six hectare orchard lost $60,000 worth of apples, another lost 150 bins," he said.

"We don't mind losing a few apples (to birds) but this is destructive. The birds are being forced out here because there's food for them."

Sally Rainoldi runs Roleystone Orchard and is estimating a loss this season of $60,000. Although she doesn't want to see the flock of 100-200 birds hurt, she would like the Government to provide assistance to orchardists.

"It's a disaster, I've got nothing," Ms Rainoldi said. "I don't know how orchards are going to be able to sustain this. It's never been this bad in 20 years.

"I don't think there's been enough research. The Government needs to step in and supply the growers with some sort of deterrent.

"It's getting to the point where the consumer will be affected."

Ms Rainoldi said the birds, both the long (Baudin) and short (Carnaby) bill types, had been seen in the area for the past six years but problems only began four years ago.

"They're magnificent birds, we're fortunate to have them in WA," she said. "It would be a shame to see them eradicated but we need to survive. They've eaten all the Pink Ladies, now they're eating the Granny Smiths. I'm done."

The damage has caused Ms Rainoldi to pick Granny Smiths now when they usually wait until May.

"It's crazy for us to pick now," she said. "The ones left are going to juice, we'll be flat out getting 20 bins when last year we had 140.

"We've forgotten about the Pink Ladies, we're just going to try to salvage the Grannies."

Ms Rainoldi doesn't endorse shooting the birds, which is also illegal, and has come up with a deterrent method of her own - a 'flapper', simply a bin liner attached to a broom handle.

"It must sound like an injured bird," she said. "But because they're intelligent they get used to it. At the beginning of the season they were easier to scare away."

Fruit West is looking at what to do next.

"There's a real issue with birds again this year," executive manager Gavin Foord said.

"Their habitat is being destroyed everywhere - food sources for these birds are being taken away. Growers can't take responsibility at the expense of their livelihood."

Mr Foord said there were several options but no simple overnight solution.

"We're looking to provide birds with alternative food sources," he said. "Netting is another option but it's not used here much due to the expense."

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) said it was monitoring the birds and recommended orchardists use scaring devices such as Bird Frite to deter the birds, as well as developing a damage control program.

DEC senior investigator Rick Dawson said the birds were listed as a threatened species under State and Federal legislation and killing or harming them was illegal.

"During autumn and winter, the cockatoos tend to congregate in the Perth metropolitan area and the surrounding hills in search of food and this can give a misleading impression of the abundance of these birds," he said.

Mr Dawson said numbers had declined drastically over the past 50 years and the remaining birds had adapted their feeding habits to include pine cones and orchard produce such as apples, almonds, pecan and macadamia nuts and persimmons.

"This has resulted in damage being caused to some crops," he said.

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