As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Flying high, not getting high: the poppy-eating cockatoos of Tasmania are no opiate addicts

Scientists say it’s the poppies’ fat and protein, not their narcotic alkaloids, that keep the birds coming back for more

Fri 14 Feb 2020 19.00 GMT

Tasmanian farmers have reported their poppy crops are being ravaged by cockatoos, but experts say it is likely that it is a taste for the fatty seeds, and not an addiction to opiates, that is attracting the birds.

Tasmanian farmer Bernard Brain told the ABC on Tuesday that flocks of about 300 white cockatoos had decimated his harvest by ripping capsules from his poppy flowers and eating them, leading him to believe that the native birds were addicted to the alkaloid found in the seed.

Poppies, which naturally produce opium, are used to produce highly addictive drugs such as morphine, opium, heroin and codeine.

But Maggie Watson, a lecturer in ornithology at Charles Sturt University, has cast doubt on that theory.

“The pathways of addiction for birds and mammals are very different,” she said.

“[The cockatoos] are not affected by the opiates in poppy seeds, rather they are interested in the fat content of the seeds.”

Poppy seeds are high in fat (about 50%) and protein (about 22%), so they are very nutritious for the cockatoos.

A spokesperson from BirdLife Australia supported this and said: “Our senior bird expert says he’s not entirely convinced it is about the cockies being addicted.

“I actually think it is a case of these intelligent birds discovering and exploiting a new food resource rather than them becoming the junkies of the bird world.”

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