parrots GPS
February 20, 2015

New GPS system tracks persistent parrots

Eric Hopton for - Your Universe Online

Until recently, scientists have avoided using global positioning system (GPS) devices on psittaciformes, commonly known as parrots. Researchers believed that the birds were just too strong and they’d break expensive tracking equipment. However, scientists from New Zealand finally created a parrot-proof GPS system.

[VIDEO: What is GPS?]

Erin Kennedy, George Perry, and Todd Dennis of the University of Auckland and Joshua Kemp and Corey Mosen of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation set out to create a standard for parrot data collection.

These scientific Kiwis wanted a challenge- so they decided to go toe to toe with Nestor notabilis, a notably large and fearless species of parrot. Also known as the New Zealand Kea, this bird will attack tourists and vehicles without reservation.

Can we track them?

They captured 14 wild Keas and fitted the birds backpack harnesses equipped with archival GPS data-loggers weighing around 19g and encased in a strong bite-proof polymer housing. This, they hoped, would make the GPS “parrot-proof”.

[STORY: Genetics could explain parrots' ability To parrot]

Their device was very effective. 12 of the 14 Keas were recaptured after a week. Two birds managed to remove the device in under an hour. Two other birds escaped completely. The researchers removed the harnesses from the remaining 10 birds to assess how the devices had affected the Keas and to check GPS performance.

There were no indications of feather or skin damage on the recaptured parrots. The birds inflicted minor damage to the loggers and harnesses but not enough to prevent proper function.

The researchers picked up data from the devices and recorded the parrots’ movement over the previous week. They could tell when the birds had been flying or walking as well as discovering where they had fed and roosted.

[STORY: The social world of parrots]

In their report in The Auk the team said their device was successful and the “study demonstrates that GPS telemetry can be a highly effective method for characterizing the movement patterns of free-ranging parrots.”

GPS helps wildlife

Collecting GPS data on birds is important because it fills in gaps in our understanding of avian social development. There are many endangered parrot species, and understanding their movement and development could help save them from extinction.

This study is a significant advancement for parrot research. Now, researchers should be able to use similar parrot-proof devices to determine essential information about habitats, migratory pathways, and potential trouble-spots where humans and parrots come into conflict.

[STORY: Burrowing parrots crossed the Andes 120,000 years ago]

Co-author Todd Dennis said “The sky is the limit for GPS telemetry and its use for bird conservation, and our paper hopefully is the first of a long line of publications relying on this technology to study the movement patterns of parrots for both applied and theoretical research questions.”


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