Australian raptor study takes flight in south east Queensland

Spread your wings over this new research

When University of Southern Queensland PhD student Leo Biggs says he’s on the hunt for raptors, you’d be forgiven for thinking of Jurassic Park.

But instead of the wilds of some forgotten island, Mr Biggs is actually searching for the birds of prey that take flight in our backyard.

And it’s these birds he aims to protect.

Mr Biggs is working on a project to improve raptor surveying techniques which will help in the conservation of our feathered friends.

“We’re looking at the best ways to find birds of prey, which are an understudied and very important group of birds,” Mr Biggs said.

“At the moment, we’ve been out conducting kayak and road surveys, and we’re planning on doing more walking surveys, using feeding platforms to attract raptors and using GPS transmitters to track the birds in the coming months.

“While many of these techniques have been used before, there is not a lot of research comparing the methods for efficiency.”

“Although some raptor species are a common sight in our skies, others could completely disappear in the coming years without our knowledge,” Mr Biggs said.

“It’s incredibly important we protect these birds, as they play such a big job in the ecosystem; they obviously hunt other animals, keeping populations in order, but they also have an important role as scavengers,” he said.

“Some of these species are already threatened and others have disappeared from this area, such as the red goshawk.

“Right now, monitoring efforts are limited in Australia, so we don’t know what the populations are doing and we don’t know the biology for certain species – this study will help to fill in these gaps.”

Mr Biggs said preliminary results showed that there was a time and place for the different methods of bird surveying.

“With road surveying for example, it’s hard to spot some species when traveling through forested areas at 50 km/hr, so specific forest species such as goshawks and sparrowhawks might be better spotted while walking, which would make that a more efficient method,” Mr Biggs said.

“It’s been nice to be out here in the sunshine – we’ve had the chance to see so many amazing things, such as sea eagles hunting and kites doing aerobatics.”

University of Southern Queensland Wildlife Management Associate Professor Peter Murray is helping to supervise the project.

“Like many species of wildlife in Australia, most raptor species are quite poorly studied,” Associate Professor Murray said.

“This is partly down to the fact there is no gold standard in survey technique and also partly due to their large home ranges.

“Most researchers use techniques which work for them, but there has never been a study which compares the different survey techniques at the same time.

“Due to the important roles that different species of raptors play, understanding which survey type can help find the species you are looking for is critical, which in part is what this study aims to achieve.”

Have in interest in things that fly? Want to help protect our natural world? Learn the key skills with one of the University’s hands-on courses in Wildlife Management.

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