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Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and Australian White Ibis

Play  Wingtag survey in Sydeny of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos  wsjm28feb2017.mp3  
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Dr John Martin, wildlife ecologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, outlines a citizen science project in Sydney, one that has Sulphur Crested Cockatoos as its focus.This is a collaborative project with the Australian Museum and University of Sydney.In the citizen science program, Cockatoo Wingtag, 120 Sulphur Crested Cockatoos in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney were fitted with yellow wingtags over five years ago. Some birds were also fitted with solar powered GPS. Each tag has a 3 digit number and each bird has a name. Left is 020, named Guava, recently photographed in Gordon.

Members of the community report their sightings, building up a map showing where the birds have been moving and which habitats they choose for foraging. It was anticipated that the birds would move 50-100km but this has not proved to be the case. One group stayed in the Botanic Gardens area, one group is around Mosman and another is in Centennial Park but all groups maintain a radius of approximately 5km. It looks like there are a lot of sub populations with little movement between them although some join other flocks, which is important for gene flow. It could also be that the birds were in the Botanic Gardens for foraging and just returned to their own flocks.


Surprisingly, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos spend a large part of the day loafing, just sitting in the shade of the tree canopy and keeping quiet. The next step of the program is to use the data to look at social networks at different times of the day and the year and over multiple years. 

There will be more tagging in March and April and also a new collaborator, Dr Lucy Aplin from Oxford University who will undertake experiments to look at the cognitive abilities of these birds. Associate Professor Culum Brown’s research, at Macquarie University has shown that cockatoos are predominantly left footed. This has now been confirmed by assessing photos of tagged birds using the Australian Museum digital volunteers (Digivol) to categorise thousands of photos showing wild populations of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos holding things with their feet.

Dr Martin has been overwhelmed by the community engagement. People really enjoy seeing them and interacting with them. The Facebook page has 29,000 people who follow it; there have been 16,000 reports via the app and over 20,000 resightings in total. The best way to get involved is to use the ‘Wingtags’ app on Apple or android phones or tablets. Just go to Googleplay or itunes store and download the wingtags app. All these devices use geolocation to give the location, time and date. Users can include a photo and all the information is shared through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

For citizen science appy days are here again.

Dr.John Martin was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images from Vaughan Cobbin and Paul McQueen. Summary text by Victor Barry, February 2017.

Right anft footed parrots
The WingTag study with subpopulations of wild Sulphur Crested Cockatoos has extended the work by Associate Professor Culum Brown and colleagues with tame and pet parrots published several years ago. Click
here for their findings which have unexpected but logical reasons to suggest why larger but not smaller species of parrots are strongly foot lateralised. Image is of a current regular visit to northern suburb in Sydney and shows a strong left foot preference.

More Citizen Science Hollows as Homes is a citizen science program where people can report tree hollows or nest boxes and the wildlife using them. The aim is to inform the provision of supplementary habitat in the form of nest boxes, especially as such nesting places come under urban pressure. The program (see www.hollowsashomes.com) covers all of Australia. Did You Know? All Australian parrots nest in tree hollows so Sulphur Crested Cockatoos need big hollows, being so large.    
When the chicks emerge from the hollow to fledge (pairs have 1-2 chicks but 1 is more common) they are almost as big as the parents. They can be distinguished by pale colouration between the upper and lower jaw which gives the parents a mark to know where their mouths are in the dark of the hollow. Chicks make a droning noise when they are begging for food and the parents make a high pitched sound when they regurgitate food into their chicks’ beaks. In captivity Sulphur Crested Cockatoos live as long as human do (80+) but it is not known how long they survive in the wild. Sulphur Crested Cockatoos can cause damage to materials like cedar in homes but such behaviour is not common. The do chew out the collars of tree branches which is disturbing for some people in an urban context because the branches can collapse. They can also be seen pruning flowers or plants. This is all part of beak maintenance and not intended to cause damage.

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Different Citizen Science roles The Australian White Ibis wing tag research in Sydney

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