A brush-turkey chick. Photo: Dr John Martin.

Track cockatoos, 'bin chickens' and brush-turkeys for science

12 November 2020
Help improve biodiversity while connecting with nature
Research scientists from the University of Sydney and Taronga Zoo have teamed up to produce an app that allows people to record the locations and behaviours native birds. They will use the data generated to further their knowledge of these species.
The Big City Birds app

Despite their ubiquity, aspects of ‘big city’ birds like the Sulphur-crested cockatoo, the Australian White Ibis, the Australian Brush-turkey, and species of corella remain mysterious to scientists.

Researchers at The University of Sydney and Taronga Conservation Society hope to change that: they have launched the Big City Birds app, that allows anyone to record these birds’ whereabouts, note the status of their nests, and observe whether they are tagged.“

Using the Big City Birds app or website, every person in Australia can be a citizen scientist and report when they see any of the five bird species,” said Big City Birds co-creator, Matthew Hall, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

“Despite the name of the app, these birds can be found practically everywhere – in the city, on a farm, or in the bush.”

Users can also report:

  • whether the birds are marked with a wing tag, banded, or with a unique paint combination on their back
  • bird nests, including tree hollows and nest mounds, and provide updates on the success of the nests
  • additional information about bird behaviours, and the different foods birds are eating or scavenging.

Why track Big City Birds?

A cockatoo overlooking Sydney harbour

Credit: Rachel King.

The data collected will help scientists understand these species’ movements, reproduction, adaptive behaviours, and habitat choice.

“We aim to use this information to help understand the behaviours that have allowed some bird species to adapt to the challenges and opportunities of living with humans,” Mr Hall said.

Big City Birds builds on the team’s previous, successful bird-tracking apps, including the Eureka Award-nominated Brush-turkey app.

Joint project leader, Dr John Martin, a research scientist at Taronga Conservation Society and an Honorary Associate at the University, said: “the Big City Birds app and website replaces the Wingtags and Brush-turkey apps – so we encourage you to download the app, try out the new features, and report the new Big City Birds species!”

An Australian White Ibis chick. Photo: Dr John Martin.

An Australian White Ibis chick. Credit: Dr John Martin.

The previous apps received tremendous community interest over recent years, collecting over 50,000 sightings from over 5,000 participants.

“This community support has helped us learn about cockatoo social networks, birds’ novel adaptations to habitat and foraging resources, and Brush-turkeys expansion from the bush into the city,” Dr Martin said.

“It is breeding season at the moment and we’re starting to receive reports of Brush-turkey chicks. This species has a unique breeding system; the chicks receive no parental care. If you see a chick, it isn’t lost and in need of help – it has to fend for itself. You can help us learn about when and where chicks are hatching, and continue to report sightings as they grow using the Big City Birds app.

“You can also report the nests of all of our study species. We’re specifically interested to learn more about where cockatoos, ibis, and brush-turkey choose to nest.

“Learning how these birds are adapting to and exploiting cities informs how we can enhance wildlife diversity in our cities. It also provides people with an opportunity to connect with nature in their day-to-day lives.”

Declaration: This project received funding from Birding NSW.

Hero image: A Brush-turkey chick. Credit: Dr John Martin.

Loren Smith

Assistant Media Adviser (Humanities & Science)

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