Home Education A bird in the hand

A bird in the hand

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With a friendly face beaming with enthusiasm, often with a large black cockatoo perched on his shoulder, Carnaby’s Crusader Dean Arthurell has become a familiar sight around the region. Seeking space and a tree change, Dean and his wife Amanda moved to Bindoon in 2014. An encounter with an injured galah on the roadside soon after moving set the wheels in motion for his conservation crusade.

“That’s how I found Chittering Wildlife Carers (CWC),” explains Dean. “I spoke to Ann Graham, took the galah to her and that’s how my journey with CWC started. Over the years I got heavily involved with the wildlife and any birds that were injured came my way.”

It was through Chittering Wildlife Carers (which Dean now chairs), that he first discovered artificial hollows, designed to replicate the natural breeding area of the cockatoos. Centuries of habitat destruction have taken their toll on the population of three species of black cockatoos (Carnaby’s, Baudin’s and Forest Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo), with only around 10% of original suitable habitat still remaining. And with Eucalyptus trees taking at least 150 years to reach a size where a natural hollow can form, a quicker fix was needed – and this is where the artificial breeding tubes come in. Conceived by renowned Carnaby’s advocate Wally Kerkhof, Dean says Wally’s invention has been the saving of the species thus far.

“I took a tube home and stuck it up in the biggest tree in the property, thinking that’s the spot!” said Dean. “It was about 10-12 metres up, and for two years every bird under the sun came and had a look at it — Carnaby’s, red tails, galahs, corellas, 28s — but nothing bred in it.

“I moved it to a beautiful wandoo tree, sheltered and secluded – within 6 weeks I had a pair of Carnaby’s in there, which was very exciting. They didn’t breed – I think they were just a young pair going through the motions, but the following year, 2018, they came back and fledged their first chick.”

Spurred on by this success, Dean installed more tubes. In 2019, Carnaby’s bred in all three of the tubes, and in 2020 it was six out of six.

“I realised I was on to something – getting 100% occupancy every year is crazy, it was clear the local population far exceeded the number of available hollows.”

Since that first fledgling in 2018, Dean has been on a quest to gain as much knowledge as possible about WA black cockatoos. A combination of his on-field observations, established data, collaborations with individuals and organisations, and his fervent interest have proved productive.

“I’m beyond passionate, I’m just obsessed!” laughs Dean. “I continue to drag every bit of information out of everyone that I can, regardless of how much they want to get away from me.
“I’m no expert — I’m just an observationist. I learn from experience and some people’s experiences are different — I respect the expert’s opinion.”

After a few years of installing the artificial hollows on behalf of Chittering Wildlife Carers, Dean launched Carnaby’s Crusaders in its official form in 2021. Since then, he has installed around 250 tubes around the state.

“The challenge was there was nobody putting them up — that’s the hard bit. Understanding the design principles is one thing, but the installation component — you’ve got to be a mad idiot to climb up that high and lift these heavy tubes up there!”

Thankfully Dean has a love of heights, a background in roping and climbing dating back to his school days, and likes nothing more than jumping off a perfectly good cliff!

“I’m just a big kid that likes climbing trees,” he said.

Dean is hopeful that the technique that has worked so well for the Carnaby’s can act as a blueprint and be applied to other endangered species, particularly the Forest Red Tail and Baudin’s in the state’s south-west.

“Carnaby’s are well looked after, they get funding now and we’ve got a recipe for Carnaby’s that works extremely well,” explains Dean. “Red tails and Baudin’s, they’re hard. They’re too far out, they live in the forest…they’re so much of an unknown.

“I would love to be someone who contributes to understanding and potentially finding out what it’s going to be that gets them to breed – what kind of vessel, what’s the recipe going to be for them?”

While striving for these answers, Dean works hard to impart what he already knows onto — well, pretty much anyone who will listen! From pre-schoolers to pensioners, he can engage any audience and says he, “Will ramble for as long as you let me!” Dean has a refreshingly realistic approach to conservation. There’s no martyrdom, and no sense that we need to fix everything or not even bother trying.

“I’m a realist – we all need places to live, we’re not about to commit the ultimate sacrifice and leave Earth!” he said. “It’s about all the little things we can learn and do as individuals and contribute that way.

“I constantly wage war in my own head about this stuff — how can we solve these bigger problems? Well, let’s just go after some of the smaller problems, put some dents in there and hopefully that will lead to the bigger stuff.

“One thing I can guarantee you is that if we do nothing, we learn nothing. If we do something — even if we don’t get a result – there’s an opportunity to learn something from that.”

At events, crowds flock to Dean and his team of educational birds, Missy, Mango, Bindy and Anzac, with the feathered friends blissfully unaware of the impact their presence is having on their species as a whole.

Dean says, “When you get to see these birds up close, when you get to hold one – it stops people in their tracks. Every one of those interactions is an opportunity to educate people and recruit them to the cause.

“They are so worth saving.”