A CHEEKY pest bird detected in the Adelaide Hills poses a major threat to vineyards, orchards, crops and wildlife, devouring fruit, attacking buds and taking up valuable nesting sites.

Red-whiskered bulbul poses major threat to vineyards, orchards crops and wildlife

Hills residents and visitors are being asked to report sightings of the red-whiskered bulbul, which is native to South-East Asia.

Biosecurity SA is leading the eradication program in partnership with Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges.

Regional animal and plant control co-ordinator Michaela Heinson says the first alert in February enabled the capture and destruction of three birds at Houghton in March. Another was captured at Cudlee Creek in May, but a further “three to five” birds remained at large near Mount Torrens.

“We don’t want populations establishing and having an impact on primary production,” she said.

“They also spread weeds and they can compete with native birds like honeyeaters, so on a few fronts we’re worried about the potential impacts if we did get established populations in South Australia.”

The red-whiskered bulbul damages the buds and ripening fruit of orchard crops. It also damages flowers, seedlings, vegetables and crops. It competes with native birds for food and nesting sites and assists in the spread of weeds such as lantana, bridle creeper and boneseed.

Ms Heinson said it was “hard to say” how they got to SA but it was not the first time.

The species was detected in “very small numbers” in Adelaide during the 1980s and again in 1993, but their eradication was “successful”.

Widespread scattered populations are established in the eastern states, including in suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and large coastal towns such as Newcastle, Wollongong and Coffs Harbour in NSW, and Mackay in Queensland.

She said it was unlikely the birds could have flown from interstate but they could hitch a ride with people in cars, trucks or boats.

“They are attractive-looking birds … They’re quite distinctive with their black crest, white chest and red under-tail feathers so they do stand out,” Mrs Heinson said.

Mount Torrens residents Gail and Charlie Underwood have been instrumental in the search, alerting authorities, reporting sightings and hosting biosecurity ground crew.

“The birds didn’t seem to appear when they were here,” Mrs Underwood said. “But we could hear them.”

Mrs Underwood first heard the strange bird’s distinctive call last spring. She ran outside to see what it was and “spotted this magnificent looking bird on one of our trees”.

She looked it up in a bird book, grabbed the camera and took a few photos as a mate turned up. The pair kept coming back and eventually her sister-in-law realised they should alert the authorities.

Rural Solutions SA is co-ordinating a structured detection survey in coming months.