Nav: Home

#EpicDuckChallenge shows we can count on drones

February 13, 2018

A few thousand rubber ducks, a group of experienced wildlife spotters and a drone have proven the usefulness and accuracy of drones for wildlife monitoring.

A University of Adelaide study showed that monitoring wildlife using drones is more accurate than traditional counting approaches. This was published today in the British Ecological Society journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

"For a few years now, drones have been used to monitor different animals that can be seen from above, including elephants, seals and nesting birds. But, until now, the accuracy of using drones to count wildlife was unclear," says the study's lead author, Jarrod Hodgson from the University's Environment Institute and School of Biological Sciences.

"We needed to test the technology where we knew the correct answer. We couldn't use wild animals because we could never be sure of the real number of individuals present."

The answer was a few thousand rubber ducks and the #EpicDuckChallenge.

The researchers made fake bird colonies out of the decoy ducks on a beach in Adelaide, Australia. Experienced wildlife spotters challenged those who counted birds from drone imagery to see which group could get closest to the actual number of fake birds.

Conditions on the day were ideal. The ground spotters counted the fake birds using binoculars or telescopes. Meanwhile, a drone was flown over the beach, taking pictures of the birds from the sky at different heights. Citizen scientists then tallied the number of birds they could see in the photos. The drone approach won.

"We found it is more accurate and more precise to have people count birds from the drone imagery than to do it on location," Mr Hodgson says.

But the scientists weren't finished there. Counting birds in photos takes a long time - and citizen scientists can get tired. So the researchers made a computer algorithm to count the ducks automatically, which yielded results just as good as humans reviewing the imagery.

"With so many animals across the world facing extinction, our need for accurate wildlife data has never been greater," Mr Hodgson says. "Accurate monitoring can detect small changes in animal numbers. That is important because if we had to wait for a big shift in those numbers to notice the decline, it might be too late to conserve a threatened species."

"Our results show that monitoring animals with drones produces better data that we can use to proactively manage wildlife."
-end-
The research paper was co-authored by scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, the University of Tasmania and Monash University.

A video showing some of the #EpicDuckChallenge can be viewed here.

Media Contact:

Jarrod Hodgson, lead author and PhD candidate, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide. Mobile: +61 (0)427 506 152, Twitter: @jarrodchodgson, jarrod.hodgson@adelaide.edu.au

Crispin Savage, Media Officer, External Relations, the University of Adelaide, Phone: +61 (0)8 8313 7194. Email: crispin.savage@adelaide.edu.au

University of Adelaide

Related Birds Articles:

Birds are shrinking as the climate warms
After 40 years of collecting birds that ran into Chicago buildings, scientists have been able to show that the birds have been shrinking as the climate's warmed up.
Birds do not habituate to traffic noise
Traffic noise affects normal stress reactions in zebra finches and delays offspring growth
Diving birds follow each other when fishing
Diving seabirds watch each other to work out when to dive, new research shows.
Why do birds migrate at night?
Researchers found migratory birds maximize how much light they get from their environment, so they can migrate even at night. 
How can robots land like birds?
Birds can perch on a wide variety of surfaces, thick or thin, rough or slick.
Is wildfire management 'for the birds?'
Spotted owl populations are in decline all along the West Coast, and as climate change increases the risk of large and destructive wildfires in the region, these iconic animals face the real threat of losing even more of their forest habitat.
Feathers came first, then birds
New research, led by the University of Bristol, suggests that feathers arose 100 million years before birds -- changing how we look at dinosaurs, birds, and pterosaurs, the flying reptiles.
First birds: Archaeopteryx gets company
Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich describe a hitherto unknown bird from the late Jurassic period.
Are coffee farms for the birds? Yes and no
Through painstaking banding of individual birds, Sekercioglu asked whether the expansion of coffee plantations is reducing tropical bird biodiversity.
Birds bug out over coffee
New research conducted by the University of Delaware has found that birds are as picky as coffee snobs when it comes to the trees they'll migrate to for a summer habitat.
More Birds News and Birds Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab