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Australian researcher tracks disappearing waterbirds through feathers

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Where Do Birds Flock Together? Australians Are Mailing In Feathers to Help Find Out

Kate Brandis, an Australian researcher, has enlisted the public to help her track elusive waterfowl as the country’s wetlands disappear.


The birds’ mysterious movements have long baffled Dr. Brandis and others in her field: Where do the birds come from, and where do they go afterward? “Because we don’t track our birds, we have no idea,” she said.


Traditional tracking methods, like banding birds, have not fared well in Australia. Since 1955, researchers have banded almost 57,000 straw-necked ibises. Just 15 of them were seen alive again. (An additional 360 were found dead.) In part, the low resighting numbers can be explained by the fact that many birds, like the ibis, have a high mortality rate. Another factor is simply Australia’s size: Inland birds often go to places where people do not.


Dr. Brandis is the first to do this kind of work in Australia. 


Meanwhile, for citizen scientists like Mrs. Kemp and her husband, the feather-mapping project has inspired a new passion. “We weren’t really into birds,” Mrs. Kemp said. “But now, we are.”


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