Cockatoos Destroy Australia's Broadband Network
Slow or fickle internet is the headache felt around the world. But Australians have a particularly bad case of broadband blues, thanks in part to its wild birds. As Reuters reports, cockatoos—a type of parrot with a distinctive feather crest—are chewing up power and fiber cables, and causing tens of thousands of dollars' worth of damage.
Australia’s internet is notoriously slow. (It's currently ranked 50th in the world by speed, according to a recent report.) This prompted officials to launch a $36 to $38 billion broadband network plan, which will quite literally bring the nation up to speed. It’s slated for completion in 2021, but construction delays and budget overspills will likely prolong the process, according to Bloomberg.
The project has received plenty of public criticism due to its cost and sluggish download speeds, among other issues. Now, officials (and engineers) face yet another obstacle: cockatoos. Native to Australia, the birds typically dine on fruit, nuts, wood, and bark. But they’ve taken to chowing down on cables, which are strung from nearly 2000 fixed wireless towers around Australia.
“Cockatoos have developed their penchant for cables to maintain their hard, sharp beaks that incessantly grow and must be constantly worn down to remain in top working condition,” explained Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) in a recent blog post. (The NBN is the body responsible for improving the country's broadband infrastructure.)
Meanwhile, Gisela Kaplan, a professor in animal behavior at the University of New England, told Reuters that the color or position of the cables might have enticed the birds. Typically, she says, they prefer pecking at wood or bark.
So far, cables on eight towers in Australia have been destroyed, with as many as 200 cables suffering damages. (Many of these towers are located in southeast Australia, where grain is grown.) These cables are spares, which are strung for future capacity needs. Unlike the active cables, they aren’t protected by plastic casing, which makes them vulnerable to bird nibbles. Technicians also can't tell if they’re damaged until they arrive on site for maintenance or upgrades.
The birds’ insatiable chewing habits have led to costly repair bills. Replacements for frayed power and fiber cables cost up to $7650 U.S. each—and so far, the cockatoos have rendered around $61,500 worth of equipment useless according to the NBN.
“You wouldn’t think it was possible, but these birds are unstoppable when in a swarm,” said project manager Chedryian Bresland, according to NBN. “I guess that’s Australia for you; if the spiders and snakes don’t get you, the cockies will.”
To prevent future damages, NBN officials plan to install inexpensive protective casing on cable ends. Hopefully, the birds won’t find them as delicious as steel-braid wires.