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A collaborative research project

Understanding resource use, social behaviour, changes in abundance or the movements of animals usually requires the tracking of individuals. Wildlife biologists have used many innovative marking techniques, depending on the species in question. And in the case of the rather in-your-face cockatoo we have trialed a rather in-your-face marking system.

Our research group from the Royal Botanic Garden, University of Sydney and AM have repurposed bovine ear tags as avian wing tags, inserting them through the loose, flexible skin that allows the wing to fold. It sounds and looks rather dramatic, so it is important for us to evaluate any animal welfare costs. Sydney’s Sulphur-crested Cockatoos have turned out to be ideal guinea-pigs for testing the efficacy of wing tags.

We tagged 100 individual birds with unique numbers and gave them unique names, which apparently helped endear the birds and the project to the citizens of Sydney. Rather than fly-off into the sunset as we expected, the majority of birds have proved to be extremely site faithful and predictable in their short-range movements. Their habit of foraging in city parks and visiting balconies for treats has meant that the fantastic citizen scientists have found it easy to record their tag numbers, and in many cases send us confirmatory photos via the smartphone app - Wingtags. Occupation of the centre of a large global city has also meant that there are large numbers of people looking out for them.

If you see a Cockie, Ibis or Brush Turkey with a wingtag please report the tag number and colour using the Wingtags iPhone/Android app or via email. You can also forward us pictures of the tagged birds that you have observed.

Report them on our Facebook page or email us or download the mobile App from the Google Play and App Store.

If you ever encounter tagged cockatoos, never hesitate to report them by downloading the Wingtags app available for iPhone and Android. Ongoing, repeat records of the same individual in the same place are very important for our ongoing research.


Davis, A., Major, R.E., Taylor, C.E. & Martin, J.M. (2017). Novel tracking and reporting methods for studying large birds in urban landscapes. Wildlife Biology, doi: 10.2981/wlb.00307.


The WingTags project website

Research is currently under way that involves wing-tagging birds within the Sydney region, Australia. Our aim is to learn about the Cockies', Ibis and Turkeys' behaviour: site-loyalty, population size and foraging, roosting and breeding habitat preferences.

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