Sydneysiders go crackers for cockatoo tracking app

The Cockatoo Wingtags project is proving to be a triumph for citizen science, creating a public fan club for urban cockies and gathering impressive information for bird researchers. More than 14,000 sightings of wing-tagged cockatoos have been logged since 2012, making 100 cockies social media celebrities and demonstrating the powerful potential of technology and community engagement to study wildlife ecology on a big scale.

Citizen science is all the rage these days and lots of new apps are being created with the aim of enlisting the public to help collect data on everything from sleep patterns to light pollution.

The results revealed in new research from urban ecologists at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the Australian Museum and the University of Sydney prove the Cockatoo Wingtags citizen science project to be a runaway success by any measure.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) have been a relatively common sight around Sydney for the past 45 years, adapting well to city life.

Until Wingtags, little research had been done to understand the secrets of their success.

To better understand cockatoo habits and movements, the research team tagged and ‘named’ 100 cockatoos in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, attaching soft plastic tags to each wing.

The public were invited to report their sightings of tagged birds using the Wingtags app, Facebook or email.

All 100 cockatoos were re-sighted, with 68 birds resighted more than 100 times throughout the study period, mostly within 20km of the CBD. Cockatoo #001 Columbus has been re-sighted a remarkable 405 times and is regularly seen in and around the Royal Botanic Garden. Other birds like Burt #009 (115 sightings) and Peanut #029 (142 sightings) are regularly reported away from the CBD.

The results from this latest research show that with the right approach, citizen science can be used to answer big questions about what wildlife get up to in urban environments.

Dr John Martin from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney said “there is no way we could have recorded this much data using traditional monitoring techniques. Wingtags is the perfect citizen science project because we are getting accurate information and the public are enjoying taking part”.

This research is ongoing and members of the community are encouraged to report their sightings of wing-tagged cockatoos via the Wingtags app on Android and Apple.

Background information:

Novel tracking and reporting methods for studying large birds in urban landscapes was published in Wildlife Biology 2017: wlb.00307.

Full article:

The authors are Adrian Davis, Richard E. Major, Charlotte E. Taylor and John M. Martin

The research was a joint project between the University of Sydney, the Australian Museum and the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney