The nation’s largest bird organisation has logged its first ever record of a kookaburra in the West Australian south coast town of Esperance.
- Kookaburras have caused environmental problems since they were introduced to Tasmania, an expert says
- Climate change could be helping kookaburras to expand their range in WA and Tasmania
- BirdLife Australia has recorded its first kookaburra sighting in Esperance
But given it is the “king of the bush”, one expert has suggested a kookaburra cull could be an idea worth exploring.
Sean Dooley, the national public affairs manager for BirdLife Australia, said kookaburras were introduced to WA from the east coast back in 1896 and records show they had reached Albany by the 1960s.
But BirdLife had no record of a kookaburra ever being in Esperance before, until local resident Barbara Jones took a drive with her husband this week.
“Out the corner of my eye I saw a bird and I thought, ‘That’s a kookaburra!'” she told the ABC.
“[But my husband’s] comment to me was, ‘Well, in the 22 years that I’ve been here I’ve never seen a kookaburra.'”
But he soon changed his mind after they pulled over in the industrial outskirts of the town and Ms Jones snapped a photograph.
‘A really devastating impact’
Mr Dooley checked other records and did find mention of an Esperance kookaburra on a website called ebird that dated back to 2018.
But he said they must have only started arriving in Esperance very recently — and that could be a cause for concern for some species native to the area.
“They sit on the top of the food chain essentially,” Mr Dooley said.
“Especially when it comes to their prey, which is things like lots of reptiles, particularly lizards, but famously also snakes, but they also pose quite a threat to lots of smaller birds.
He said climate change was making the impact of kookaburras particularly pronounced in Tasmania, where kookaburras were also introduced at the turn of last century.
“The forests in Tasmania are drying out and becoming a bit more open,” Mr Dooley said.
“It’s perfect habitat for kookaburras and their numbers are booming.
“The same thing’s happening, perhaps to a lesser degree, in the south-west of Western Australia.”
A kookaburra cull?
He said these problems raised an interesting question about whether kookaburras should be managed through a cull.
While he thought it was probably too late for this to be effective in the south-west of the state, he said a case could potentially be made for culling kookaburras in places they were only just moving into like Esperance, particularly given its proximity to the ecologically significant Great Western Woodlands, 200 kilometres to the north.
“There may be an argument that says, ‘Maybe we need to draw a line and start seeing if we can remove those kookaburras on the frontline and try and push their spread back,'” Mr Dooley said.
Culling native birds is not entirely unprecedented in WA.
Mr Dooley said corellas were culled around Perth.
He also said rainbow lorikeets, which were “presumably introduced from escapee birds in the 1960s and 1970s”, had proliferated to such an extent around Perth that there were some calls for culls.
“They’re expanding and taking over the nesting hollows of some of the local parrots like the 28 parrot, and potentially things like the western rosella and other things,” he said.
Mr Dooley said while there was a big push for culling kookaburras around Tasmania, he was not aware of any programs designed to eliminate them.
The WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has been contacted for comment.
‘Lots of people love them’
Ken Mills, a botanist who has lived in Esperance for 18 years and “was born with an interest in birds”, pointed out there were other predatory birds around Esperance.
“Magpies and butcher birds and a lot of the small hawks and things do the same thing,” he said.
“So I think it’s more a case of that [kookaburras] will compete with those birds for the existing resource, and there might be a slight adjustment of the populations among the various predators.”
Mr Mills said it was not unusual for birds to expand their range and assimilate into the local environment.
“[Kookaburras] do seem to have struck some sort of balance in the south-west,” he said.
“I don’t particularly welcome them, but I’m not particularly worried about them either.”
He said he would be much more concerned if rainbow lorikeets started to show up, because they could build up such big numbers.
He said only time would tell as to whether kookaburras would establish populations in Esperance, which depended on whether they found places to breed.
But if they did, he said it would no doubt make some people very happy.
“Lots of people love them,” he said
Mr Mills has not seen a kookaburra in Esperance yet, but given he was more of a waterbird enthusiast, that did not concern him the slightest.
“We have a bit of a saying in that community,” he said.