Boy heartbroken as threatened cockatoo habitat bulldozed for retirement home

Twelve-year-old Spencer Hitchen watched in horror as glossy black cockatoo feed trees were bulldozed to make way for a retirement village in Queensland.

“It has broken my heart.”

That was the sad response from Spencer Hitchen, a 12-year-old Queensland boy, who had just watched the habitat of a species threatened with extinction flattened by bulldozers on Tuesday.

Yahoo News Australia first reported on the Uniting Church’s plans to proceed with the removal of glossy black cockatoo feeding grounds in October — despite them recently being listed as vulnerable to extinction by environment minister Tanya Plibersek.

Spencer Hitchen in front of a bulldozer at the development site.
Spencer Hitchen was left visibly upset when the bulldozers rolled onto site. Source: Paul Hilton / Earth Tree Images

Having joyfully watched the bird colony for a decade, Spencer has worked tirelessly to try and stop the development, and over 83,000 people backed him by signing a petition. Knowing the end was near, last night he attended a webinar that featured Minister Plibersek, sending messages he prayed she would see. “I was hoping that she would save the day,” he said.

Unfortunately for Spencer, intervening was not something the minister was able to do, as the project was approved before the bird was listed.

This morning, trees at the 5.8-hectare site at Sunrise Beach near Noosa Heads came crashing down. Among them were a species of she-oak trees which are a critical food source for what Spencer calls the “glossies”.

“The trees are just being toppled, they’re taking out 10 trees at a time, they just push them straight over. All of the trees the glossies used to come to are all gone,” he said.

Project developer secured all required approvals

The project was being managed by Lendlease Retirement Living on behalf of UnitingCare's aged care group Blue Care. The company has since rebranded as Keyton and it is owned by Aware Super, APG Asset Management and Lendlease.

UnitingCare referred its project to the Commonwealth to ensure its environmental management actions adhere to all statutory requirements. "Glossy's" were not listed at the time it originally applied to develop the site.

The bulldozers shot from a drone, removing trees at the site.
The developers acquired all of the necessary approvals to begin their project. Source: Paul Hilton / Earth Tree Images

Concern offset site won't be enough to feed 'glossies'

While a 2.2 hectare offset site has been retained nearby, many of the trees recently planted there are still below knee-height.

“The trees will take 10 years to grow and even then they may not become favoured feed trees for the glossies,” Spencer fears.

He's concerned that because of their fussy behaviour, the "glossies" may never return to the site. “You might have 100 trees and they may only feed on one. So you cannot offset for the glossies,” he said.

Two glossies flying by a feed tree at the site.
Spencer is concerned he will no longer see his beloved "glossies" at the site. Source: Paul Hilton / Earth Tree Images

Spencer wonders where the “glossies” are supposed to go, now that their patch of feed trees has gone. “I used to go birding here and photograph all the incredible species, and now it's just soil and dead trees lying everywhere,” he said.

Why the environment minister can't intervene

Spencer is frustrated by the state of Australia's environment laws, and believes we can’t wait any longer for them to be changed. “We need to start acting now,” he said.

Minister Plibersek did not respond directly to questions from Yahoo News Australia, but a spokesperson for the environment department issued a statement.

“The Glossy Black Cockatoo was listed as vulnerable under Australia’s national environmental law on 10 August, 2022 which came after a decision that the proposed development does not require approval on 25 October, 2021,” it said.

“Any action proposed after 10 August, 2022 that is likely to have a significant impact on the South-eastern Glossy Black-Cockatoo must be referred for assessment under national environmental law.”

Keyton responds to boy's concerns about development

Developer Keyton issued a statement about its Sunrise Beach project and its work to mitigate bulldozing feed trees used by glossy black cockatoos — a species now vulnerable to extinction.

"Keyton prides itself on being a socially responsible company. Social, cultural, and environmental considerations permeate every facet of our business, and we take all of these into account before we begin considering a site’s suitability for development. At Sunrise Beach Village, Keyton has worked closely with the masterplan developer, Blue Care, to ensure we achieved every relevant standard necessary for approval," it said.

Two images show the small she-oak trees that the developer has planted.
While the developer has planted she-oaks to offset its destruction of mature feed trees, Spencer worries it could be decades before they're big enough to feed his "glossies". Source: Heidi Lincoln

"We have already spent over $600,000 remediating a three-hectare rehabilitation site at nearby Girraween Nature Refuge as part of a $2 million investment in rehabilitating the site and we have undertaken to replant around 1000 she-oaks there as well as over 300 other native plant species.

"We are also working with the community to replant thousands of she-oaks and other natives in the local area to mitigate against the effects of those being removed from the site as part of the development."

UnitingCare has been contacted for comment.

Do you have a story tip? Email:

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.