Sulphur-crested Cockatoo data collected on facebook

30 November 2012

Community science is uncovering the habits of sulphur-crested cockatoos. Adrian Davis, PhD student in the School of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden and a horde of facebook followers, has been tracking the movements of these cockies via social media.

Adrian explains, "We tag the cockatoos in the Royal Botanic Garden to monitor their movements, behaviour and site loyalty around Sydney." Through this they aim to gain a greater understanding of the ecology of these birds in a large city. "The ultimate goal of the project is to determine how the birds utilise the urban landscape so that we can plan and design for both us and the wildlife."

Hazel (15) spotted by a member of the public hanging out on the Harbour Bridge (photo by A. Wells)
Hazel (15) spotted by a member of the public hanging out on the Harbour Bridge (photo by A. Wells)

Where the community comes in, is the reporting of who is where and when. The 'who' is determined by the unique number on the bright yellow wingtag. The 'where' and 'when' information isemailed, uploaded tofacebook or captured in an iPhone app called Wingtags. "We have 1400 people following the project on facebook and over 1000 reports via the app," said Adrian. "Often people will regularly see the same birds."

The project began back in October 2011 and since then Adrian, and his collaborator John Martin, have tagged 63 birds. "The majority of the birds seem to stay close to the Gardens, however some have never returned, preferring to stay around Manly. Some frequent Sutherland. Another flew out to Kellyville. So there is evidence of some movements around Sydney and between flocks." But, before we start drawing conclusions, Adrian cautioned that the project will continue to run for another year before they run the analysis on the cockatoo's movements.

What's exciting now about this project is the success of the tagging and reporting method. "It makes the community science-aware and allows them to participate in science. We hope to raise awareness of the importance of urban wildlife." The wing-tags themselves go through a fold of skin called the 'petagium'. "It's equivalent to a human piercing," explained Adrian. "The birds recover quickly and adjust to the tags very well."

Adrian says, "Planning for both humans and wildlife in cities is important for conserving the diversity of our native wildlife." With that in mind, as you are out and about this summer in Sydney, keep an eye open and your camera-phone at the ready to contribute to this piece of citizen-science.