Research project to help eagles soar

A passionate Perth conservationist has raised more than $20,000 through crowdfunding to help him track young Wedge-tailed eagles.

Murdoch University PhD candidate Simon Cherriman aims to help increase understanding of these birds of prey, the threats they face and to assist with their ongoing survival.

Mr Cherriman had already crowd sourced funding for three satellite transmitters that were placed on juvenile Wedge-tails from the Perth Hills in October 2016.

This second fundraising effort has just reached its target to buy four more sat-tags.

He is also applying for grant funding with the hopes of tagging 20 juvenile Wedge-tails altogether

“The accuracy of our knowledge depends on following the stories of more than a just a few birds,” said Mr Cherriman, who has a life-long passion for Wedge-tails.

“The funding will help to increase the sample size, thereby increasing our level of understanding of where and when these birds travel, and how we as custodians of the land can ensure they soar well into the future.”

Wedge-tails are the largest bird of prey in Australia. They are found throughout the country but take many years to reach breeding maturity, sometimes only producing viable chicks every two to three years.

They can be wide ranging birds. In his pilot study, Mr Cherriman found one of the tagged birds flew from the Perth Hills as far north as the Pilbara. This bird subsequently died, with evidence suggesting a collision with an aircraft or drone was responsible.

For his study, Mr Cherriman will be comparing the birds’ activities across a Perth study area covering 2,500 square kilometres from the Avon River to Roleystone, with those in the arid zone, near Wiluna in the Mid West region of WA.

He is trying to find every breeding pair in those two zones to assess how the Wedge-tails are integrating with the current landscape in WA.

His monitoring research involves him scaling trees to reach the nests of the eagles, then fitting sat tags to the juvenile birds before they leave the nest at around 12 weeks. The sat tags are carefully attached like backpacks. The Wedge-tail nests can be found up to 30 metres above the ground.

While currently listed as a species of least concern, Mr Cherriman said it was still important to increase our understanding of the eagles while they are still relatively easy to study.

“We can then identify factors which may lead to declines and give these early management attention. If we leave it until they’re endangered, it could be too late,” he said.

“The last population-scale study on this species was conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, and since then, an increase in human activity has resulted in drastic changes to their habitat, but no follow up research has occurred.

“We do know that many birds are killed by vehicles, and drones are increasingly encroaching on their habitat in the sky.

“But my passion for eagles is also driven by the fact that these charismatic icons are umbrella species – representatives of the ecosystems over which they soar. By understanding and protecting eagles, we protect a great deal more.”

Source: Murdoch University

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