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William Francis Mitchell

Past Honours Student

Qantifying the roosting behaviour of a community of woodland birds

 

Will began his Honours degree at Monash University in February 2016. His project aims to quantify the roosting behaviour of a community of woodland birds. Roosting, in the context of birds, refers to the act of settling to rest or sleep. Roosting occupies a large percentage of any bird’s life (up to 14.5 hours of darkness at a latitude equivalent to Melbourne, Victoria on the winter solstice). It is also a risky state for birds as it leaves them vulnerable to both predation and the elements. For this reason roosting behaviour and location choice is important for an individual’s survival. Little has been published on the general patterns of roosting behaviour. The few papers that have investigated roosting behaviour have focussed on nocturnal species, infrastructure-damaging species that roost in urban environments and, the nocturnal behaviour of diurnally-active species during their nesting stage. None of these studies have attempted to determine general behavioural patterns that can be applied to a range of species in a given environment. Furthermore, for the majority of Victorian woodland bird species there are no published studies regarding roosting behaviour.

The aims of the study are to:
1. Determine patterns of nocturnal roosting behaviour in diurnally active woodland bird species using a novel surveying tool, an infrared camera
2. Increase our understanding of the specific roosting strategy, and hence general ecology, of a number of Victorian woodland bird species.
3. Provide the first insights regarding habitat required by woodland birds for roosting, and provide that information to land management.
4. Assess the effectiveness of an infrared camera as a tool for conducting field surveys of birds (and mammals) at night.

There are over 100 species of bird in the proposed study region and at present there is limited information regarding the roosting behaviour of these. The use of an infrared camera is a novel survey technique and Will aims to collect the first data regarding the roosting behaviour of many of these species. Nocturnal studies of endotherms has been limited in the past by the difficulty of locating and identifying species in the darkness. The use of infrared cameras has the potential to vastly increase the ease with which researchers can conduct nocturnal surveys, opening a huge range of future research opportunities.

Establishing roosting behaviour will allow environmental managers to make more informed decisions about the habitat required to maintain and improve biodiversity in Victorian woodlands. There are a number of threatened species found in this area. Increasing our knowledge of the ecology of these species is particularly important in order to maximise the chance of their long term persistence. Determining the roosting behaviour of invasive bird species - such as Common Myna, Common Blackbird, and Common Starling - will increase our understanding of the ecological niche these species are impacting on and aid in the management of invasive species in woodland habitats.

 

When Will is not looking for birds in the dark, he likes travelling, hanging ten and catching some epic waves on the Mornington Peninsula, and playing lead guitar in the band Also, Dragons.

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