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Facebook tracking makes for non-angry birds

Research takes off as cockatoos “Like” no-nets scheme

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Sydney’s Royal Botanical Garden is using Facebook to track its population of sulphur-crested cockatoos.

John Martin, Wildlife Officer at the Garden and Ph.D candidate at the University of Wollongong, explained to The Register that he hopes to study the birds, which are infamously loud and destructive, the better to understand their breeding habits and general health.

To conduct studies of this type, researchers usually tag birds and attempt to recapture them, often in nets, a process called “mark and re-capture”. The capture process isn’t much fun for the birds or people: sulphur-crested cockatoos are big birds with large beaks that can inflict a nasty bite (as your correspondent learned first-hand in an earlier professional life).

Mark and re-capture also relies on birds flying in to spots where researchers can find them. But some cockatoos are wide-ranging while others drop in to regular haunts.

Martin hoped to overcome these issues with tags that are large and bright, in the hope that more birds would be spotted. A trickle of sightings did flow in to an email address he posted to the Garden’s website, but data has started to flow in greater volume since he established a Facebook page.

Cockatoo-spotters are asked to post which bird they sight and where they made the sighting.

Martin says this new “mark and re-sight” scheme is kinder to the birds and produces more useful data. He hopes to gather even more data by encouraging spotters to Tweet bird sightings. Using smartphones’ GPS facilities to geo-locate cockatoos is also on his agenda.

Now all we need to do is wait for the storage and analytics industries to declare this research represents ‘Big Bird’. ®

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