Wildlife Drones tracking small, endangered migratory birds

We’re excited to be joining forces with the Riverina Local Land Services again to shed new light on the movements of small, migratory Swift Parrots within their winter range.  The Swift Parrot is one of Australia’s priority bird species for conservation action and is listed as critically endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.

A recovery program for this species has been running for many years providing important insights into the species’ breeding biology and winter habitat requirements, however almost nothing is known about the species’ dynamic movements.

Part of the problem is Australia’s highly variable annual rainfall and drought cycles which mean that the Swift Parrot’s favourite food, nectar from gum tree flowers, is also highly variable.  Unlike most migratory birds that we know about from Europe and the Americas that return to exactly the same site each year in response to reliable food, Swift Parrots need to migrate to different areas across their huge winter range (approximately 1,250,000km2) each year in order to find food, fatten up and migrate back to their breeding grounds.

The other problem is that these birds are small, weighing typically less than 75g.  Given we don’t know where they will turn up each winter, we can’t use small tags that don’t transmit a signal (such as geolocators).  We also can’t use GPS and satellite tags since they simply remain too large for this small migratory bird to carry.  Therefore, we need to use VHF (very high frequency) radio tags on the birds, and Wildlife Drones in the air, to actively track the birds’ movements across large landscapes.

This project will focus on collecting Swift Parrot movement data within the Box-Ironbark Woodlands of the Riverina region of New South Wales (NSW) as well as identifying important conservation sites for the species on both public and private property.  This information will then be used to directly guide on-ground habitat conservation work for a $1m NSW Environmental Trust Saving Our Species project that is protecting and restoring Swift Parrot habitat.

 

WhiteBox_DSaunders
Photo credit: Debra Saunders
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