Corella curse has City, State and church desperate to stem plague
The message from the State Government’s biodiversity experts is clear: it’s too late to fix Geraldton’s corella problem this year.
Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions regional leader of conservation, Anthony Desmond, said it was vital to strike when the first flock arrived each year.
“When they find a good spot, it attracts others as well,” he said.
“Once they start to set up in an area, they will probably continue to increase in numbers if it’s got the resources they need.
“It doesn’t mean the population is bigger; it just means they’re attracting ones from further out.”
Mr Desmond said because corellas were highly adaptable, a co-ordinated response and various measures were necessary.
“To be effective ... you can’t just move them from one person to the next,” he said.
“And in the long run, we have to give them a more attractive place to be than the coast of Geraldton, which is a great place to live during the hot summer months.”
Geraldton’s annual corella plague is far from a new problem, Mr Desmond said.
He said the birds had been flocking to the city in numbers great enough to cause problems for at least 15 years.
“This is a species that used to live probably more so inland,” he said. “They’ve certainly been a problem on the coast since the ’80s. They’ve moved into the coastal areas for the last 30 or 40 years and set up their summer holiday camp here. In the 1950s they were causing problems in the Chapman Valley.”
Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said corellas appeared to have congregated in higher than usual numbers this year.
“I’ve been here 20 years and this is the highest number I’ve seen,” he said. “It coincides with the drought out in the southern rangeland areas, which forms their native habitat.”
Mr Desmond said the department did not monitor corella numbers, though it seemed likely more than usual had descended on the city this year.
Mr Desmond said corellas were highly intelligent and it was not known for certain why they were so destructive.
“One theory is that they’re just inquisitive and having fun,” he said. “Another is that it’s part of their natural behaviour. When they’re nesting in hollow trees, they’ll bite things off and take off bark. There’s another theory, which is probably a bit wild, that it helps to maintain their bill health.”
Mr Desmond said corellas were “highly exploratory” animals.
“We regularly get issues with sporting pitches, whether they’re natural or artificial,” he said.
“We’ve had them getting on to roofs and take off the rubber grommet around tech screws; they’ll get into electrics.
“Anything they can chew on or pull at, they will have a go at — it’s just what they do.”
Mr Desmond said corellas were also attracted to trees that offered something different to chew on.
“They’re definitely having a go at the sheoaks around town, because there’s some seeds available in those that have a different texture,” he said.
THE CITY’S STANCE
Corellas have caused “hundreds of thousands of dollars” damage in the City of Greater Geraldton, Mr Van Styn said.
“The corellas have, over the years, damaged various lighting towers, roof structures, synthetic turfs, and have caused the loss of some Norfolk pines and other trees,” he said. “They have damaged street lights that belong to (the city), as well as various cabling and roofing structures, particularly at Queens Park Theatre.”
Mr Van Styn said council was working on a corella management plan for next year.
“We’re hoping to, in the next meeting cycle or two, have a plan come into council, to be ultimately presented to the community for final comment, in order to prepare a set of actions for the next season,” he said.
“We were notified on February 23 this year, that effective from the first of January, the status of the corellas had changed from protected species to managed species, allowing us to take control of the population. However, at that point, they were already in the CBD doing their thing.”
Mr Desmond said flocks had to be dealt with before they established a major presence. But he stopped short of calling for a cull.
“With the very large numbers that we’ve got, a cull would be very ineffective in our belief,” he said. “To make an impact, you would have to take a large number; and they learn very quickly.”
Mr Van Styn agreed a “multi-prong attack” was necessary, but said culling was “the only way to control the corellas”.
“We’ve seen them adapt to the use of firecrackers,” he said. “We now use 50 per cent more firecrackers, and they are not re-locating any more.”
Mr Van Styn said he was aware of corellas causing issues in other places including Walkaway, Eradu and Mullewa, but stressed they were a “national problem”.
Father Robert Cross estimates corellas have caused about $20,000 damage to St Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral this year alone.
“We had an electrical survey done of the dome area, and according to that quote they’ve done approximately $17,500 (damage),” the chancellor and director of heritage at the Diocese of Geraldton said.
“That figure includes the cost of trying to corella-proof the wiring and what-have-you.
“On top of that, there’s other damage they’ve done to fixtures on the building itself.
“They’re ripping off the spikes that are supposed to stop birds landing on the dome.
“They’re also eating into the fixtures that attach the ladder that goes up the side of the dome and other bits and pieces.”
Federal and State Governments, the Catholic diocese and the Mid West community have in recent years invested millions of dollars in the conservation and enhancement of the cathedral.
But Fr Cross said money was being “thrown away” each year to repair corella damage.
“The only solution to me is to euthanise the birds to the point where they no longer present a threat to the people and infrastructure of Geraldton,” he said.
“It’s really got to be a State government policy and State government action. I can’t stress enough that they need to put a task force together to come up with a proper scientific approach.
“We cannot afford to have them coming into the city as they are, year in, year out, because we’re going to be in real big trouble if we don’t do something soon.”
Fr Cross also expressed concerns about electrocution hazards caused by the birds exposing live copper wires on the cathedral roof.
“We’ve turned off the circuits that are affected, and that’s why anybody going past the cathedral at night now will notice that top tier of lighting has been turned off,” he said. “There’s also the risk of fire and water entering.”
Western Power will repair 15 street lights damaged by corellas in the Geraldton CDB.
A spokesman said cockatoos commonly interfered with street lights, but corellas had converged in bigger than usual numbers this year.
“So far, we have repaired more than 20 lights damaged by the birds as part of our standard repair program for faulty lights that are reported to us by customers,” he said.
“In previous seasons, countermeasures like cocky clips, metal guards that sit across the lens and light top divergent devices (spikes) have been able to curtail corella curiosity.
“However, the preventative measures have not had the same level of success this year because of the sheer number of corellas converging on the CBD.”
The spokesman said the damaged lights were mostly located along Marine Terrace and Chapman Road, with some also on Cathedral Avenue.
“The cockies’ concerted focus is to the head of the streetlight, where they can unclip the lens binding and unpick rubber seals, resulting in the lens either falling off or hanging open,” he said.
“As well as repairing the damaged lights we are also looking at stronger cocky countermeasures such as additional strapping and repositioning light-top landing spikes to deter the corellas from attacking.
“If there are lights that are being continually affected by corellas or other cockatoos we may have to leave the lens of the affected street light off temporarily until the birds move on.”
Western Power did not comment on the cost of the repairs.
Geraldton’s sporting clubs and facilities have not been immune.
Geraldton Tennis Club president George Giudice described the birds as a “menace”.
“The tuart trees in the carpark are being stripped of foliage and branches, which fall into the carpark,” he said.
“They are also causing bird droppings on to the courts and they try to attack the wiring on the lights and cause damage.”
At Geraldton Golf Club, corellas have dug holes in putting greens and littered fairways with tree clippings.
“They even killed a tree by nipping off all the new growth,” club manager Sue Douglas said.
“I couldn’t put a dollar figure on it, but it’s increased the workload for our staff and volunteers.”
Despite the initial onslaught, Ms Douglas said firing a gas gun every morning and afternoon seemed to have scared flocks away.
Mullewa Swimming Pool manager Mick Wall said corellas had damaged shade sails in previous years.
Mr Wall, who also manages Mullewa Football Club, said they had caused no damage to the oval.
Spokesmen for both Spalding and Tarcoola Park Tennis Clubs, Spalding Park Golf Club, and Railways Football Club — who call the Geraldton Recreational Ground home — reported no damage.
PUBLIC HEALTH SCARE
In February, it was revealed corellas were peeling strips of paint from an old asbestos roof at the Geraldton Hotel, releasing deadly fibres.
Asbestos Diseases Society president Robert Vojakovic told The Geraldton Guardian the fibres could cause lung cancer or mesothelioma over the next 30 years.
The health scare led to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development restricting public access to its Geraldton office, which is located across from the hotel on Gregory Street, for four days.
“This was pending results of air quality monitoring, which found the Geraldton DPIRD office site was considered low to negligible risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres, and the area was reopened,” a spokeswoman said. “DPIRD staff were given an option to work from home or at alternate DPIRD sites during this period of time if they chose to.”
The City of Greater Geraldton worked with hotel management to clean up the hazard, and earlier this week the roof was removed.
The Geraldton Hotel was approached for comment.
There are three types of corella in Australia; the species that descends on Geraldton each year is the little corella.
Little corellas are playful: they have been observed sliding down roofs and perching on spinning windmill blades for fun.
They are white, with blue rings around their eyes and a light pink patch between the eye and bill. Both sexes are similar in appearance.
Little corellas are found across Australia and are the most widespread of the three species.
They eat mostly grass seeds and grains but will try other foods.
They start breeding at the onset of long periods of rain. Researchers believe they pair for life.
Little corellas nest in tree hollows and can use a single site for years.
The long-billed corella and the western corella are found in WA’s south-east and far south-west respectively.
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