Posted on 24th October 2018 by Media Relations
A new app is allowing citizen scientists to record their observations of Brush-turkeys in their local area. This data is contributing to a collaborative research project run by Taronga Conservation Society, The Sydney University and The Royal Botanic Gardens.
“Brush-turkeys are an Australian native bird with an unusual form of reproduction,” says Matthew Hall, a Sydney University PhD student and the project lead. “Rather than brooding their eggs, they construct huge nest mounds out of soil and leaf litter (up to 3 tonnes), which keep the eggs warm. The chicks, once they hatch, live completely independently of their parents.
“Once rare due to over-hunting during the great depression, these birds have made a dramatic comeback and are increasingly becoming common in suburban areas,” Matthew adds. “This has created a unique human-wildlife conflict situation as some people are irritated by Brush-turkeys digging up their gardens, while others are happy for more close contact with native species.”
Researchers have been tagging turkeys at Taronga Zoo and other areas in Sydney, observing their behaviour and tracking the birds with GPS in an effort to understand their population dynamics, movement patterns and general social behaviour. The aim of the project is to determine how brush turkeys have adapted so quickly to urban environments and what makes them geared towards urban life.
The Brush Turkeys: Birds in Suburbia app is now allowing Australian citizens to record their own observations and assist with this research. The app concept won the Australian Citizen Science Association’s ‘Spotteron Competition’ at the 2018 Citizen Science convention, and as a result was developed by software design company Spotteron. Launched in September, it allows users to report their sightings of Brush-turkeys and provide information about their behaviour.
“People can add whether there are chicks present, how the turkeys are interacting with the chicks, if they are foraging and what in, the foods they are eating and where they are building their mounds,” says Dr Alicia Burns, a behavioural ecologist at Taronga Conservation society. “This is information that we may not be able to get out and find ourselves.”
Brush-turkeys gained legal protection in the 1970s and, since then, have taken to reclaiming not only the bush but the cities – which are dangerous playgrounds for independent turkey chicks. In the past decade there has been an increase in the number of urban turkeys colonising south-east Queensland and northern NSW.
Researchers are encouraging citizens all over Australia to download the app and report what they see. “It has been really inspiring and exciting to see the response to the app so far,” says Matthew Hall. “Within three days of the launch date the number of reports on the app already outstripped the number of Brush-turkeys I had personally tagged in the whole first year of my PhD.”
Citizen science projects such as this are really important, says Dr Burns. “The aim is to encourage people to appreciate their environment and the amazing species living in these urban areas. It’s also about education and getting them to participate in efforts to protect these species. This data collection is really valuable for our broader ecology work and conservation.”