AUSTRALIAN native birds are not to be considered pests to horticulture crops under any circumstances.
That was the feather-ruffling statement Professor Gisela Kaplan delivered to a room of some 150 nut growers and industry stakeholders at the inaugural Tri-Nut Conference in Tasmania recently.
Professor Kaplan is an adjunct professor in animal behaviour in the Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour at the University of New England.
She also owns a lychee orchard in Armidale and has extensively studied the behaviour of birds, particularly Australian native species.
Professor Kaplan said one of the difficulties in growing horticulture crops in harmony with birds is the geography.
"Humans like the same territory as birds. We tend to settle in areas which are most bird rich and we tend to plant in areas which are most bird rich," she said.
"You're producing one of the most desirable food items on the planet for all animals.
"You are plonking their favourite food source into an area where everyone would like them."
But she was adamant from the outset on how they should be perceived.
"Let me first say that native birds in Australia are never, ever, under any circumstances to be considered pests," she said.
"They are in fact the gifts to the world."
According to 2007 federal government figures, bird damage costs the Australian horticulture industry almost $300 million annually.
More than 60 bird species are known to damage horticultural crops.
Another challenge in dealing with nut-hungry birds is the high intelligence of native species such as galahs, black cockatoos and sulphur-crested cockatoos.
Having personally nursed native birds back to health after injury, Professor Kaplan gave examples of their ability to damage structures such as wire frames or even dismantle small machines such as cameras.
She said offensive methods are not necessarily the best strategies.
"If you start applying war tactics, they will fight back," she said.
"We have a problem in Australia that we are slowly overcoming and that is, when it moves, shoot it.
"Shooting I don't think, is a solution. It's a very short term solution."
She said a sudden reduction in population numbers always results in heightened breeding, meaning a population increase.
"Your opponent is a 17-year-old streetwise kid who is about to rob the bank and hasn't done it for the first time. That's where your thinking needs to sit," she said.
She suggested Australian agriculture needs to take greater consideration of bird species when making decisions about orchard establishment.
While nests and habitats may be removed for production land, the displaced birds will return when a new crop is established.
Biological methods of distraction would be cheaper and more effective options, according to Professor Kaplan.
She said scaring or deterring tactics need to be random and varied as native birds will quickly learn patterns.
The pine trees which have grown beside her Armidale lychee orchard have provided an alternative food source via the pine nuts, something that has reduced bird-related fruit damage.
"If you provide alternatives, quite often that actually works particularly if it's at a different height," she said.
Professor Kaplan floated the idea of the wider adoption of falconry in Australia, where birds of prey are used to deter and control pest bird numbers during harvesting, similar to schemes used in the United Kingdom.
She also encouraged orchardists to help support local territorial species on their properties, such as king parrots, which would in turn naturally fend off other birds, like lorikeets.