Projects

What Canberra region bird conservation projects has the Fund supported so far?

1. Learning about the conservation needs of the Superb Parrot in the Canberra region

The Fund’s first grant recipient was Adrian Manning of the Centre for Resource & Environmental Studies at The Australian National University. The grant he received supported his doctoral research into the Superb Parrot in the Canberra region: ‘A multi-scale study of the Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii); implications for landscape-scale ecological restoration’. The study has been completed, Adrian has been awarded his PhD and is active in using the results of his research to support efforts to conserve the critically endangered Superb Parrot in the Canberra region.

2. Bringing breeding birds back: a study of birds breeding in re-vegetation sites

The second grant was to Suzi Bond to support her honours degree research into the extent to which birds breed in the sites that have been revegetated by Greening Australia and its many Birdwatch volunteers in the Canberra region.

Suzi advises that ‘The success of my honours project was due to the generous funding I received from the Canberra Birds Conservation Fund. As a result, there is now improved knowledge of what certain woodland birds require for suitable breeding habitat in revegetation patches around the Canberra region.’ She has been awarded her degree, and her research findings have been widely disseminated to land use planners involved in revegetation programs.

3. Support for the preparation of a manuscript on the plumage of the Speckled Warbler in the ACT

The third grant was to Dr Janet Gardner of the School of Botany and Zoology at The Australian National University to support her research on the plumage and moult in the Speckled Warbler. This is based on three years of research at Campbell Park. As reported in Gang-gang (October 2006):

‘There she discovered 20 to 35 groups living on the 300 hectare study site. 143 individuals were captured and colour banded. Each bird was given a moult score out of 50 at each capture: comprising a score of zero (old) to 5 (new) for each of the 10 primaries. For those of us who had given little thought to bird moulting, the sequence was surprising. The primaries on both wings moult first, starting from the middle of the wing out to the wing tip. The primary coverts moult at the same time. It takes an average of 78 days for the 10 primaries to moult, although there is considerable range from 45 to 135 days depending on food availability etc. Halfway through this process, the secondaries moult from the centre of the wing in towards the body. Tail feathers moult in pairs sequentially from the centre. The body moult can start before or after the primary moult.

‘Speckled Warblers breed as pairs or trios, the latter with two males, one of which doesn’t feed the young. At Campbell Park, about 30% were trios. They fledge up to 3 broods per year in a breeding season that lasts from July to November, and 98% of clutches contain 3 eggs. Only the female incubates and broods the young. After leaving the nests, the fledglings are fed for 5 weeks and by 7 weeks they have dispersed. The onset of primary moult occurs between November and April. Half to one-third of the birds begin to moult during their last breeding attempt of the season. The post-juvenile moult of body feathers only occurs when the birds are 5 to 60 days old. The flight feather moult is delayed until the second year. The distinctive lateral crown stripe starts to moult in five weeks after fledging.’

The grant supported the publication of Janet’s research for her PhD on the ‘Social Behaviour and Breeding Biology of the Speckled Warbler’, a species until recently feared to be declining across the south-east.

4. Monitoring the re-establishment of the Superb Lyrebird in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

Chris Davey, in conjunction with colleagues Dr Peter Fullagar and Ederic Slater, are monitoring the re-establishment of the Superb Lyrebird at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, following the January 2003 bushfires that destroyed their habitats. This is being undertaken through counting lyrebird display mounds and the frequency of lyrebird vocalisations. The Fund is supporting this research by meeting the costs of a megaphone and MP3 player for use in call playback, a key tool for monitoring the size and location of the lyrebird population. A great strength of this study is that it replicates that undertaken by a team led by the late Norman Robinson in the 1970s at the same location.

This study is currently being implemented.

5. Monitoring the impacts of the Molonglo Valley developments on the birds of the Kama Agistment

Mark Clayton is monitoring the impacts of the Molonglo Valley developments on the birds of the Kama Agistment, with particular reference to the breeding of Brown Treecreepers in that locality. The Fund has supported this work by paying for mist nets used to capture and band individual birds, a crucial aspect of the monitoring program.

This project is currently being implemented.

6. Return of the fauna: Brown Treecreeper reintroductions in eucalypt woodland

The sixth grant was made to Ms Victoria Bennett of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University to support the experimental reintroduction of Brown Treecreepers to Mulligans Flat and Goorooyarroo Nature Reserves in the Australian Capital Territory, where large-scale habitat restoration experiments are ongoing. By performing this reintroduction in a rigorous experimental context with a detailed monitoring and evaluation plan, it is hoped that the study will produce information and provide models and protocols to guide other reintroductions in many Australian environments.

7. The role of kangaroo grazing on the conservation of grassland and grassy woodland fauna in the Canberra region

The seventh grant was made to Mr Brett Howland of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University to support his study of the role of kangaroo grazing on the conservation of grassland and grassy woodland fauna in the Canberra region, focussing on the Mulligans Flat-Goorooyarroo woodland reserves. It explores the hypothesis that ‘Species composition, biomass and structure of the understorey in temperate grassland and grassy woodlands, affects the abundance and diversity of animal species, which are in turn influenced by climate and the level of grazing experienced’.

8. Parental provisioning calls to nestling scrubwrens: complex signals for a simple task?

The eighth grant was made to Ms Tonya Haff of the Research School of Biology at The Australian National University to support her research into parental provisioning calls to nestling scrubwrens. While much research has been conducted into nestlings’ begging calls, research to better understand parental provisioning calls has been somewhat overlooked. The funds have facilitated the purchase of equipment needed to create robotic nestlings.

9. Reductions in the body size of Australian birds as a response to climate change

The ninth grant was made to Dr Janet Gardner of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University to support establishing computerized datasets of long-term bird banding records in preparation for analyses of avian responses to climate change. The study explores the hypothesis that birds’ body sizes are reducing as a response to global warming. It uses morphological data of individual species banded over a 30-40 year period in the ACT and elsewhere in Australia.

10. The nature of coevolved reciprocal adaptations prior to egg insertion by the parasite in the host nest

The tenth grant was made to Mr William Feeney of the Research School of Biology at The Australian National University to support his research investigating the nature of coevolved reciprocal adaptations prior to egg insertion by the parasite in the host nest (the ‘front-line’). The research focuses on these interactions between the Superb Fairy-wren and the Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo. The research site is Gungahlin Hill Nature Reserve in Canberra.

11. Evolution of host defences in the Yellow-rumped Thornbill

The 11th grant was made to Ms Iliana Medina of The Australian National University to support her doctoral research investigating the evolution of host defences in the Yellow-rumped Thornbill. She notes that the Shining Bronze-cuckoo parasitizes about 20% of Yellow-rumped Thornbill nests. Soon after hatching, the cuckoo nestling evicts all the other eggs in the nest. Her primary aim is to investigate the coevolutionary dynamics between the Shining Bronze-cuckoo and the Yellow-rumped Thornbill.She is interested in establishing (i) whether this host presents any type of defence against parasitism, and (ii) if not, whether it has evolved ‘tolerance’ of the parasite in the form of adjustments to its life history to minimise the costs of parasitism. This could be one the few known cases of a species that has lost the battle against cuckoos. The research site is Campbell Park in Canberra.

12. Consequences of environmental variability on social structure and reproduction in superb fairy-wrens

The 12th grant was made to Dr Kristal Kain of the Research School of Biology at The Australian National University to support her research investigating the consequences of environmental variability on social structure and reproduction in Superb Fairy-wrens. She s examining and comparing populations of fairy-wrens at the Australian National Botanic Gardens and Campbell Park in Canberra, seeking to determine whether increased environmental instability leads to elevated competition, and in turn whether competition intensity is related to social dynamics (timing of breeding, number of clutches, number of territory changes, aggressive interactions, song frequency, number of male helpers at the nest, etc.) or measures of reproductive success (number of eggs, clutches, fledglings, and independent juveniles).

13. Investigating the rate of coevolution between the Pacific Koel and its hosts, year 1

The 13th grant was made to Ms Virginia Abernathy from The Ausralian National University to support her doctoral research investigating the rate of coevolution between the Pacific Koel and its hosts. She writes that the rate of coevolution between a brood parasite and its host can be measured over time if the parasite begins utilising naïve hosts. In Australia, the traditional hosts of the brood-parasitic Pacific Koel were the Noisy Friarbird and the Magpie-lark . However, in the 1970’s in Sydney, the koel switched to parasitising the Red Wattlebird. Further, in the last five years, koels have expanded their breeding distribution south and began parasitising Red Wattlebirds in Canberra. Thus these two sites provide a rare opportunity to observe coevolution in action. I will perform two experiments to test the ability of both old and new hosts to recognise an adult female koel and to recognise and reject foreign eggs. In addition, measurements will be taken to determine if the koel has evolved mimetic eggs or chicks.

14. Investigating the rate of coevolution between the Pacific Koel and its hosts, year 2

The 14th grant was also made to Ms Virginia Abernathy to support the second year of her research.

15. Monitoring the Silver Gull population of Spinnaker Island, Lake Burley Griffin, September 2015 and January 2016

The 15th grant was made to Mr Chris Davey to support the program of monitoring the breeding Silver Gull population of Spinnaker Island in Lake Burley Griffin that he is undertaking in conjunction with Dr Peter Fullagar. The funding provided will support the researchers re-surveying the breeding colony population during the 2015 breeding season to determine whether the population has continued to expand. This monitoring program has been in operation since 2010.

16. Complex cooperation and the effects of climate on White-winged Choughs

The 16th grant was made to Ms Constanza Leon of the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian University to support her doctoral research into cooperative breeding and the effects of climate on White-winged Choughs which are obligate cooperative breeders. the project is examining the ecological conditions and evolutionary mechanisms that favoured the rise of cooperative breeding in shafts, and the impacts that climate change may have on obligate cooperative breeding species, since extreme environmental perturbations may drive groups below the critical size they need to reproduce successfully.

17. ‘Bringing back Bush Stone-curlews’

The 17th grant was made to the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust (Dr Kate Grarock, Sanctuary Ecologist), to support the purchase of transmitters and leg flags to be used for tracking the re-introduced Bush Stone-curlews at the Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve.

18. Introduction to birding courses at Mulligans Flat

The 18th grant was made to the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust (Ms Millie Sutherland Saines, Education and Outreach Officer) to support the purchase of binoculars to be used to expand the Trust’s introduction to birding courses at Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve.

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