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Drones help researchers survey small parrots

Cara J

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For over 20 years, the movements of the critically endangered swift parrot (Lathamus discolor) have largely remained a mystery given the small size and highly variable annual movements of these migratory birds. “In the past, researchers have attempted to manually track swift parrots by attaching VHF radio transmitters to the birds, since GPS and satellite tags that provide data remotely are too large for this small migratory bird,” said Debbie Saunders, a conservation ecologist with Australia National University and founder of the company Wildlife Drones. “They then had to walk around for hours and days on end holding up a heavy antenna in the air in an attempt to pick up their signals.” Lightweight, flying robots can help track hard to track species such as the swift parrot. ©ANU Media But it was very time consuming and labor intensive to find even one swift parrot using this technique, she said, since the birds can move over large distances very quickly. Researchers were constantly searching for high ground to increase their chances of picking up a “ping” from a distant radio tag. “We needed to find a better way to efficiently find tagged animals across broad landscapes so that we could [...]

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