The corella’s comeback

By Tim Low | March 6, 2018

While corellas may now be the bane of many farmers, there was a time when their future was precarious.

Contributor

Tim Low

Tim Low lives in a state of perpetual surprise at everything wild and alive. His response is to write searching books, Australian Geographic articles and this blog. His book Where Song Began (Penguin, 2014) recently became the first nature book ever to win the Australian Book Industry Award for best general non-fiction. Tim’s newest book is called The New Nature.

THE LONG-BILLED corella has a built-in pick for digging – a super-long mandible for grubbing up dinner.

This parrot once doted on yam daisy, also called murnong (Microseris walteri), a plant like a dandelion with a sweet fleshy root. Murnong was esteemed as well by Aboriginal people, who harvested the ‘yams’ in vast numbers to bake. The Victorian plains on which murnong abounded had other plants with tasty tubers, including orchids and lilies, also valued by Aboriginal people and probably by corellas as well.

When pioneers came, their sheep nosed up and ate murnong and its tubers. The plant vanished over vast tracts, along with the orchids and lilies. The Aboriginal people of the plains lost their way of life. Corella numbers plummeted.

The Victorian plains kept changing after those years of upheaval and displacement. Today there are towns, crops and highways as well as sheep and cow pastures. In the 1950s corellas began to make a comeback in this landscape, by learning new ways.

They turned to oats, corn, sunflower seeds and onion grass (Romulea rosea), a prolific little weed with juicy underground corms. They gained more choices when farmers planted walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios. That extreme bill doesn’t stop them crunching seeds of different sizes. They must have eaten seeds in the past, although little is known about that.

corellas

(Image Credit: Ed Dunens)

Corellas are now the bane of many farmers. A flock of hundreds may descend on a crop and leave a mess. In their quest for corms and grass stems, corellas dig up golf courses, bowling greens, tennis courts, ovals and racecourses. Sulphur-crested cockatoos do this as well.

When they are relaxing, corellas like perching on iron roofs and pulling out loose nails. They are very raucous when flocks choose to sleep in trees near houses.

Corellas are expanding their horizons. They have moved into Melbourne and founded scattered flocks in Tasmania and in Queensland as far north as Cairns, thanks to releases or escapes from aviaries. If they fill in the gaps between these places, their numbers will be enormous. The little corella (Cacatua sanguinea), a relative, has also taken to crops and made itself unpopular.

Some animals have very complicated relationships with us, and the long-billed corella is one of these. Farmland is now its core habitat. That’s not an ideal situation, but that’s how it is. For many species today, farms rather than national parks are their future, because our national parks don’t include all the habitats of the past.