Blue Mountains resident Carol Probets remembers the gang-gang cockatoo as a bird that was commonly spotted in the region in the 1980s.
“You’d see them really often, most times when you went walking both in the bush but especially around the towns actually,” Probets says.
“They would feed a lot on things in people’s gardens.”
She says the bird was so characteristic of the area that Katoomba even has a street – Gang Gang Street – named after the small grey cockatoos.
Probets is the vice-president of Blue Mountains Bird Observers. Since the early 90s the group has recorded bird sightings in the area and their data shows a marked decline in gang-gang numbers.
In 1992, 62% of all surveys recorded gang-gang sightings. In eight of the last 10 years, that has dropped to 20%.
“You would never see them in Gang Gang Street now,” Probets says.
Devastating fires take toll on birds
It’s been two years since Guardian Australia’s last bird of the year poll. The 2019 vote launched in November of that year, in what turned out to be the early stages of the country’s catastrophic bushfire season.
The fires, heatwaves, drought and ever-increasing urban sprawl have brought Australia’s unique and much-loved birds under pressure.
The gang-gang is just one species that is now being assessed for an endangered listing due to climate change and declines that were already occurring. The fires burnt 36% of the species’ range.
A further 15 birds are currently under assessment for either a listing as a nationally threatened species for the first time or for an upgraded listing because the declines have worsened.
There will be more assessments for other bird species to come.
Sean Dooley, the national public affairs manager for BirdLife Australia, says the 2019-20 fire season brought a “seismic shift” for Australia’s birds because the disaster was so extensive, affecting so much habitat, particularly in New South Wales.