What the Flock: Understanding Urban Cockatoos
Meet Bachelor of Science Honours student Alex White. Alex completed her Bachelor of Science undergraduate with a major in wildlife biology and is now completing her honours project on the role of cockatoos in urban South-East Queensland. With some cockatoo species’ populations skyrocketing with increased urbanisation, other more specialist species are threatened with extinction. Alex is researching why, and the implications of this for our urban ecosystems.
What sparked your original interest in wildlife biology and ecology?
I’ve been fascinated by the natural world from a young age and was lucky enough to grow up interacting with a range of wildlife and ecosystems, I guess there wasn’t exactly a spark, but an ongoing infatuation with the lives of animals. I believe that nonhuman species and nature’s role in the world is greatly undervalued and underappreciated, especially the urban animals and plants we interact with daily and often take for granted. Something else that has always interested me is the intelligence, cognisance and sentience of animals.
“I believe that nonhuman species and nature’s role in the world is greatly undervalued and underappreciated, especially the urban animals and plants we interact with daily.”
What has been your most interesting finding so far?
My most interesting finding so far is probably the adaptability of many cockatoo species. A lot of cockatoo populations were decimated after the arrival of settlers and widespread vegetation clearing but some species such as corellas, galahs and sulphur crested cockatoos are on the rise with introduced plant species (for example pine plantations, cereal crops and exotic weeds) making up over 90% of their diet! How’s that for resilience?
With the current COVID-19 situation, how have you altered your research to deal with this?
I have had to get a little bit creative with several different methods. Firstly, a lot of my data will be extracted from online resources on our local bird communities. Secondly, I am utilising social media and citizen science as a method of data collection as well as my own opportunistic observations. Additionally, I have my fieldwork observations that I collected prior to when all this craziness began. The situation is obviously subject to ongoing changes, so I’ve been staying up to date with news from the university and government.
How does your research area affect how you live your everyday life?
I try and minimise my impact on the planet throughout many aspects of my lifestyle. I’m a firm believer in voting with your dollar so I avoid animal-based products, excessively packaged products and try to compost, Redcycle and recycle most of our household waste. I will always support local businesses where and can and I try to find ethically sourced or second-hand products. We all have areas in our lives where it’s easy to do our bit. Nobody’s perfect but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking for ways to be more sustainable and conscious of what we buy.
What do you hope to do after your honours year?
I’d love to become more involved in local research projects on urban wildlife and community/wildlife initiatives. I’d also love to expand into science communication and facilitating positive relationships between people and nature.
“Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Imposter syndrome is real and it can lead to lots of self doubt, which in turn leads to inaction. It’s one big learning process, not just on your topic but also on those less tangible skills such as time management, prioritisation and organisation.”
What advice do you have for someone considering doing an honours project?
My advice would be to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Imposter syndrome is real and it can lead to lots of self doubt, which in turn leads to inaction. It’s one big learning process, not just on your topic but also on those less tangible skills such as time management, prioritisation and organisation. These skills are crucial not just for Honours but across the board in other areas of your life.
Learn more about completing an honours year with the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University.