Native sulphur-crested cockatoos are a common and very beautiful sight in Sydney, but their destructive behaviour can cause a big headache for homeowners, as some Potts Point residents have discovered.

In fact, you probably already know that the cockatoos of Potts Point have developed something of a bad reputation in recent years. But did you know they’re being tagged, tracked and even have names?

The cockatoos

Sulphur crested cockatoos are a very recognisable and much-loved native white parrot, with a distinctive yellow or “sulfur” coloured crest and under wing markings. While they are not endangered, they are a protected species that can live to 75 years of age – longer in captivity.

Cockatoos are native to the east coast, and their usual habitat is in timbered areas where they like to eat berries, seeds, nuts and roots. But cockatoos have also adapted well to urban environments where they love to eat food scraps and handouts from humans, and fly from building to building with their distinctive loud screechy call.

The problem is, in a highly urban environment they can create huge havoc for residents and homeowners. The issues primarily arise due to cockatoos’ extremely strong, curved beaks, which they like to test and toughen on wooden twigs, branches… or window sills, wood panelling, eaves or decking! We personally have witnessed the birds ripping strips of rubber off of cars and they are notorious for eating wooden eaves and damaging decks with any timber on homes or unit blocks being particularly at risk.

In 2011, it became such an issue for some buildings in the area that the NSW government granted culling permits to Potts Point building owners who had complained about significant damage caused by the birds – up to $40,000 in one building alone. Residents were divided. But despite a vocal local petition against the cull, some birds were ultimately culled.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service and many residents agree that such a cull should be an absolute last resort. There are, however, a number of first line, humane measures that residents can take to try to co-exist peacefully with the birds.

Tips for dealing with urban cockatoos

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage advises that cockatoos are very intelligent birds and a well-planned strategic program needs to be established in order to deter them. They recommend implementing the following ideas and persisting until the birds go away, which may take a little while:

  • Don’t feed them, as they will congregate where there is food and leave when the supply is gone, so check that no one else nearby is feeding them either. Likewise, make sure that any rubbish stored outdoors is securely fastened.
  • Make a scarecrow that looks like a bird of prey.
  • String fishing line over the area – this makes it hard for them to land.
  • Paint any timber white – they do not like it.
  • Give them a quick spray with a water bottle or hose.
  • Hang netting over the affected area.
  • Use taped alarm calls or a motion-activated alarm (providing it does not disturb your neighbours).

Tracking cockatoos in the city

The Wingtags Project, a joint ongoing research endeavour by the University of Sydney, the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens and the Australian Museum has been tracking the cockatoos with solar-powered GPS devices since 2011. More than 100 sulphur-crested cockatoos have been fitted with wing-tags and spotted over 10,000 times by the public. The project aims to better understand the movements, habitat use and foraging patterns of a species that has become an increasingly common sight in urban Sydney over the decades.

If you want to get involved you can get to know your local cockatoos by name. Our picture above is of one of the naughtiest cockatoos in the area with a penchant for ripping up cars: number 105, otherwise known as Pepper. Say hello to Columbus or Sunny when they land on your windowsill, or you can report a tagged bird sighting.

You can also help out by taking their survey about these clever but cheeky Cockatoos opening garbage bins. They’re also looking for sponsors for the program, and if you donate more than $200 you can even name one of the birds in the study.

Article by Jason Boon

In a real estate market that is the focus of Australian, and indeed worldwide attention, Jason Boon's results in the Sydney scene make him a highly significant figure within the industry. A long-term specialist in the Potts Point and inner eastern suburbs area, he is uniquely placed to leverage his skills and local knowledge as the area undergoes significant change and diversification. Jason ha…