Birds now eating cane toads, researcher finds

Published 26 November 2007

Southern Cross University researcher Gillian Marchant has found that birds are learning how to eat cane toads.

Gillian began a study into cane toads on the Northern Rivers to assess community awareness of the noxious creatures and to investigate the most humane way in which to kill cane toads.

“Through interviewing survey participants, I unexpectedly discovered that many people had seen crows and magpies flipping cane toads over and ripping open their soft underbelly with their beaks, exposing the internal organs and providing a tasty non-toxic meal,” said Gillian, who is undertaking the research as her Master of Environmental Science project.

“If the behaviour spreads more widely among bird populations, there is a good chance that these meat-eating birds will become a natural predator of cane toads – which have no other environmental predators to keep their populations under control.”

Gillian’s survey of residents has found that most people are still not fully aware of just how poisonous the toads can be. The toads exude a poison from glands on their shoulders and have been known to squirt the poison when threatened.

If the poison gets into your eyes, it can cause serious eye damage and even blindness, Gillian said. Ingested, the poison can easily kill a small animal like a dog or cat and make humans very sick.

“In my survey one person had seen a friend eat cane toad legs. It wasn’t clear what ill-effects there might have been, but I strongly warn everyone not to eat any part of the cane toad,” Gillian said.

Gillian found that cane toads have been spreading rapidly and have already firmly established themselves in the region from Lismore to Nimbin and Kyogle.

“A female will breed and lay eggs three times a year and each time she will deposit up to 60,000 eggs. People need to be aware that even the eggs are toxic and there have been reports of deaths from people eating cane toad eggs,” she said.

Locals have used many different methods to kill cane toads, Gillian said, including running over them with their car, hitting them with heavy objects and spraying them with a Dettol solution.

“While these all work, the animal suffers. The most humane way to deal with a cane toad is to catch it using a plastic bag – they are very slow-moving so this is quite easy. Wrap the toad securely in the bag, and then pop it into the freezer,” she said.

“This puts the toads into a deep torpor, or sleep, and eventually they die. But if you take the toad out of the freezer too soon, it will wake up and be very much alive. They need to be kept in overnight or for at least eight hours.”

Gillian is keen to hear from Northern Rivers residents who would like to take part in her cane toad survey by answering a few simple questions.

You can contact her on

Photo: Gillian Marchant is looking for people to take part in a survey on cane toads.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.