Raptor Research Grant 2022

The raptor research grant recipients have been determined for 2022. A wide range of fascinating projects have been awarded grant money. Birdlife Australia Raptor Group wish the recipients the best of luck in their endeavours and look forward to receiving updates on their progress.

Biology and ecology of the arid-adapted Grey Falcon

Dr. Jonny Schoenjahn

Jonny Schoenjahn has been undertaking this long-term project to determine what enables the Grey Falcon to persist permanently, and at extremely low density, in the arid zone of Australia. This has involved studying the following aspects of the species ecology and life history:

  • Short-term and long-term movements of adults and young
  • Estimating total population size and assessing population trends.
  • Identifying threats to the species.
  • Determining the genetic variation of the population as a measurement of the ability of the species to adapt to environmental changes and threats

Jonny undertakes field work searching for active nests by visiting known former roost- and nesting sites, searching actively at assumed likely locations, and following up reports of many volunteer informants who kindly make their sightings available.

Grey Falcon birds are attempted to be captured on the ground and banded with colour-coated stainless-steel bands. In addition, adult and immature individuals may be fitted with a solar-powered satellite transmitter to measure the movements of these rare birds.

Rufous Owl Nest Box Installation

Anita Meadows

The greater Darwin area is lacking an abundance of suitable hollows for wildlife, especially owls, or hollows large enough for the requirements of owls.

In a recent project at a nearby suburban oval adjacent to coastal scrub, a pair of Rufous Owls had been unsuccessful in their attempts to breed for the last 5 years straight due to the nest being situated in the fork of an African Mahogany Khaya senegalensis. Lacking the protection of a proper hollow, owl chicks would simply walk out of the nest and perish on impact or shortly afterwards. A half cut natural hollow was measured and with an EWP Elevated Work Platform placed in the fork to prevent the owlets falling, this project was successful, and the first fledging has now left the nest and is doing well. This project was funded by City of Darwin as it was on Council Land.

A separate pair of Rufous Owls had been nesting in a Cuban Royal Palm Roystonea regia that had died and the top had fallen out. This was not an ideal nest as it is situated over a heavy traffic laneway between private property, and the dead palm has since deteriorated. The lack of suitable hollows around Darwin is due to the loss of a vast number of old trees in Cyclone Tracy (and other cyclones) and continual land clearing.

Anita Meadows is hoping to rectify this situation with the installation of artificial nest boxes to facilitate the breeding of a pair of Rufous Owls. The area has been surveyed and it is known that a pair of Rufous owls are frequently spotted roosting in private properties that have healthy s vegetation cover. It is unknown how likely Rufous Owls are to use artificial hollow structures, and this installation of a nest box in this territory will provide an interesting test case.

New large Pleistocene Old World vultures (Accipitridae) from Australia: morphology, systematics and palaeoecological implications

Ellen Mather

Ellen’s project aims to describe and compare the fossils of up to 2 giant accipitrids from Naracoorte and Green Waterhole Cave in south-eastern South Australia to other known extant (global) and extinct (Australasian) accipitrids to determine their taxonomic relationships to each other.

The project has involved the comparison of fossils to museum specimens of 47 accipitrid species, plus three Accipitriformes and two Ciconiiformes. Phylogenetic analyses have been performed using 300 morphological characters sampled from across the skeleton.

Results have shown that a new large accipitrid species is present in the material, larger than a Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax). Material from the second taxon is possibly referable to the recently redescribed Cryptogyps lacertosus based on size and overlap of known fossils but is yet to be conclusively determined.

Promoting human-raptor coexistence: an interdisciplinary comparative study in the Southern Hemisphere

Rocio Almuna Morales

Rocio Almuna Morales is undertaking a PhD project at the University of Western Australia that aims to understand the social-ecological factors associated with human-raptor interactions and to design methodologies for the promotion of coexistence and sustainable co-inhabitation with native raptors. This research will use an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to examine human attitudes and tolerance towards raptors and to understand their traditional coexistence strategies. This will involve a cross-continental comparison between two Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) systems, one in South-central Chile and the other in South-western Australia.

This project will create an opportunity to compare and connect two countries from the Southern Hemisphere, each one with their own biocultural identity and diversity, tradition management practices, First Nations and TEK systems. These two realities can offer each other new perspectives and challenges to achieve community engagement in management practices and policies to move towards human-wildlife coexistence. Comparative studies can be highly valuable in social-ecological research. Furthermore, using cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches in human-predator coexistence in Chile and Australia will help filling the existent knowledge gap in the southern Hemisphere and TEK systems. Landscapes are a social and cultural construction and a result of complex reciprocal exchange. Interdisciplinary approaches described in this proposal will account for this complexity, integrating different types of knowledge and using mixed and innovative methods that will attempt overcome the limitations of disciplinary science.

In South-western Australia, the study will be focused mainly on the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax), though other species may be involved when working with poultry farmers, and in south-central Chile the focus will be on Harris’s hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) and the Variable hawk (Geranoetus polyosoma).

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