EVERY year rainbow lorikeets damage wine and table grapes in the Swan Valley, which frustrates growers who are trying to send their produce to market in good condition.
Growers say the damage done by the birds shows up more on white table grapes but also when a bunch is damaged and starts to rot it affects the bunches around it.
The parrot, which also damages stone fruit grown in the Perth Hills, is not native to Western Australian.
From about 10 escaped or released birds in the 1960s it is now well established in the metropolitan area, according to the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD).
Grape Growers Association of WA president Kevin Peterson said the rainbow lorikeets damaged the grapes with a clawing action down the side of an entire bunch, which showed up more on white grapes.
“When a bunch of grapes is damaged by rainbow lorikeets it effects other bunches.
“This means extra time cleaning damaged berries out of bunches or a complete discarding of bunches.
“Either way the producer has extra cleaning costs or total loss of income with each bunch that is not marketable.’’
For the past 12 years the association has tried to deal with problem.
In 2006 the association in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture lobbied the state government to have the bird declared a pest.
The association, which has a declared species group (DSG), was successful and then the City of Swan, the association and the Department of Agriculture each put in $5000 to have the birds shot.
“Once the department said it didn’t have any more money to contribute, the City of Swan, which is the only local government in WA doing anything about the problem, stepped up and guaranteed funding in three-year blocks.
“Other councils in WALGA failed to see the value of culling birds because they had no economic loss to industry in their areas.’’
The money contributed is used for auditor’s fees, shooters fees etc.
The program operates with a code of conduct – so if any of the birds are injured the shooters need to make sure the birds are euthanised.
A committee member Kim Taylor investigated the use of lasers, drones and hawks to try and combat the problem but one issue is the area is under a flight path so those solutions can not be applied.
“Other trials such as gas guns and poisons generally prove of little effect.
“People who move to the Swan Valley for the lifestyle don’t understand the damage the birds do to grape crops and think shooters are just killing pretty birds.
“The birds don’t necessarily live in the Swan Valley but will fly up to 30km looking for food.
“They are not native to WA, can carry diseases and bully other birds such as willy wag tails, mudlarks and magpies as well as pink and grey galahs and twenty-eight parrots out of their nests.
“About 8000 birds have been destroyed this year, which is more than last year when there was less fruit available due to flooding and a shortage of shooters.’’
A DPIRD spokeswoman said the rainbow lorikeet was declared acclimatised fauna under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1952 (WC Act).
“This means that in the south-west land division a person can control the species without first obtaining a damage permit from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), providing that no damage to trees or parts of trees is caused (Government Gazette 1992).’’
A February 3, 2010 City of Swan council report said between July 2007 and when the report was prepared about 23,000 birds had been culled.
The report said the birds had the potential to spread psittacine beak and feather disease to wild and captive parrots.
Psittacosis (or psittacine) is caused by chlamydia psittaci and is a notifiable disease in WA.
The Department of Health said people generally acquired the disease by inhaling dust from dried faeces or fresh or dried ocular and nasal secretions from infected birds.
Person to person transmission is rare but infected birds could shed the agent intermittently for a prolonged period.
By Anita McInnes