Monitoring the impact of culling – Noisy Miners in the Southwest slope region of NSW

Sitting in front of the computer and browsing through thousands of photos. This may seem very simple, but it is not a glamorous work. Instead, it is very time consuming and requires a lot of patience because when you look at hundreds and thousands of photos, maybe only a few have captured the target species. I got the photos from Richard Beggs in late August, who is a PhD student at Fenner School, and have been analyzing them since then while now I have finally nearly reached the end.

Photo of a Noisy Miner

Noisy Miners are pugnacious honeyeaters that will chase away other smaller woodland birds that perch in their territories, especially for the potential food competitors. Due to the aggressive behavior, the habitat that with Noisy Miners inhabited are less likely to support other bird species. Although the Noisy Miners usually inhabit in open forest or woodland, it is found that they are well adapted to suburban areas that human modification on landscape have a relatively small impact on them(BirdLife, 2017). At the Southwest slope area of the NSW, farming is dominant and the woodland are clear in patches, creating large number of habitat favorable for the Noisy Miners, and thus encouraging the colonization of the species.

With reference to the aggressive bahaviour and the expanding territories of the Noisy Miners, many conservationists have claimed that the increasing number of this species is the main threatening factor for the decline in small woodland birds in the area, and the general belief is that if regular culling of Noisy Miners is practices, it will help to restore the number of other small woodland birds(Maron et al., 2013).

Photo of a White-winged Chough pecking a nest, which is another nest predator

However, as Noisy Miners is not the only species that have a high sense of defending their territories in the area, there are still uncertainties for the effect of culling Noisy Miners and have a risk of causing the “black swan event”, which the culling of the species may cause advert impacts. For example, the removal of the Noisy Miner may be favoring the predation of other nest predators, which the nests are kept being predated and the population of other small woodland birds cannot be restored.


To clarify the impact of culling of the Noisy Miners, Richard have set up cameras to capture the nest predators in the area by placing fake nests and eggs on the branches in the treatment site (with culling) and the control site (without culling), and determined if the removal of Noisy Miners is really helpful in recovering the other small woodland birds or not through the evidence on nest predations. And there goes my work,which is to help him to identify the existing nest predators in the photos!

Photo of Richard setting up the camera

Looks easy? Oh well it is, I can do my photos identification anytime and anywhere I want, and no physical labour needed at all, but it is still a tiring work and I kind of understand why it takes so long to analyze the results of a biodiversity monitoring project after doing this work. It will be an ideal photo of evidence if it clearly shows the predator pecking the nest, but this is always not the case when I am analyzing the photos. In fact, due to the properties of the cameras that it will take photos if anything moves or changes, it is taking lots of photos that literally capture ‘nothing’ but the movement of branches or changes in shades. So, it is quite exciting when I can finally spot any birds on the photos and is able to identify them, and this is the moment that I feel my hard work has been paid off.

Photos that literally capture “nothing”

On the other hand, through analyzing the photos, I realized that the sources of errors are much more than I have expected.  Apart from camera failure, there are quite some photos taken without focusing on the nest as the nests are being altered by the strong wind, or else some of the cameras were set too far away from the fake nest, which makes it very hard to identify the birds. Also, even if the bird is captured quite clearly, it is sometime hard to identify them when they are too close to the camera or the photo is taken under strong sunlight or shaded area.

Photo of a Noisy Miner pecking the nest

Human shapes the environment for their own benefits, and when they realized that their action is destructing the natural ecology, it is also humans that develop management interventions to prevent the situation from worsening. There are different potential consequences of human management intervention to the biodiversity, and we will not know the results unless it is implemented. But in order to minimize the impact of unexpected outcome, detailed monitoring is needed to evaluate the actual effect of the management intervention, and serves as important data for constructing future management approach.

Even the work I did is only a small part of the whole project, I am grateful that I am able to help. The happiest thing after doing this work is that when sometimes I saw a bird on the street, I am able to know the species and delights my day!



Vicky Lam

word count: 878



BIRDLIFE. 2017. Noisy Miner [Online]. Available: [Accessed 7 October 2017].

MARON, M., GREY, M. J., CATTERALL, C. P., MAJOR, R. E., OLIVER, D. L., CLARKE, M. F., LOYN, R. H., MAC NALLY, R., DAVIDSON, I. & THOMSON, J. R. 2013. Avifaunal disarray due to a single despotic species. Diversity and Distributions, 19, 1468-1479.


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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