How far do Gouldians move?

The aim of the project is to quantify the movements of Gouldian finches response to changing patterns of seed availability and fire regimes in the east Kimberley region. We know from previous work by STGF, Charles Darwin University (CDU), and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) that fire frequency greatly affects the nesting success of the Gouldian finch at our East Kimberley study site near Wyndham. The proposed project will examine the hypothesis that an increasingly nomadic lifestyle, associated with the need to track grass seed availability, has decreased the survival and fitness of finches, potentially accelerating their decline in recent decades. We will examine the direct effect of prescribed burning regimes in the Kimberley region of northern WA on grass species distribution, patchiness and seasonal availability of seed, physiological condition of the birds, movement ecology and reproductive success of the finches.


So how far do Gouldian finches move? Sarah Pryke and her team gathered some tantalising data from recaptures of rung Gouldians to show they may move considerable distances. Molecular work by Simon Griffith’s and his tem at Macquarie University indicate that the northwestern populations of Gouldian may be one large connected population. Young Gouldians in particular seem to disappear from many areas late in the dry season. Where do they go? It is very difficult to track them, but with new technology and the use of drones this project will do just that, among many other things.

There are no off-the-shelf solutions for remotely locating small but highly mobile. We will therefore integrate a number of existing technologies to achieve our research goals. Coded VHF transmitters of only 0.29 g weight will be glued to the nape of the neck of individual birds with the aerial running down the back (see photo of a tagged Longtail). These will be naturally shed when they next moult.


To track where the birds go we will use two techniques:
1. an array of VHF receivers on 10 m towers will be built across the study area. They will detect the VHF transmitter signals of each bird and track their location.
2. But many birds will move outside the study area. To find them our partners – WildSpy and National Drones – will deploy a receiver on a remotely piloted aircraft – a drone. The RPA is a fixed wing drone (see photo), has a flight endurance of 20 hours and operation radius of 100 kilometers, and will carry a 10 kg payload. It will fly predetermined transects across large areas of the Kimberley and across into the Northern Territory looking for our birds.


Work will start towards the end of the wet season in 2018 and birds will be tracked during the following dry season. This is ambitious stuff, but will provide fantastic results.

Our partners are Charles Darwin University, DPAW, WWF, Kimberley Land Council, WildSpy, National Drones and University of Auckland.

STGF is investing significant cash as well as in-kind by providing use of our Wyndham Research Facility and the nestbox network – a critical resource for tagging birds. Keep tuned for results.