Early bird catches the worm


On a chilly October morning, a group of students and I accompanied Dr. Phillip Gibbons on a bird watch that’s a part of an ongoing 6-year longitudinal study that examines the value of mature trees for wildlife. Canberra was named Australia’s 2nd largest city undergoing development in 2016, and thus various new suburbs are being built all around Canberra. As the urbanization increases demands for space and aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods also increase. Hence, lands are cleared to make space and older more mature trees are usually taken down because they’re not very pleasing to the eye.

The problem?

Canberra has a high abundance and variety of bird species, that depend on tree’s for basic needs such as a source of food, foraging, nesting, and most importantly older tree’s with hollows as some bird species are hollow-nesting birds. Martin and McIntyre (2007) found that the most common response by birds to grazing is that there was a high level of species absence in the presence of grazing, and high species abundance under lower levels of grazing. The aim of this study was to determine the ways birds made use of different types of trees.

Setting the scene:

At 6:30am, the team and I set out to a private property in the Kinlyside suburb and surveyed 4 different trees on the property, two trees that were located between two residential properties in Nicholls, and lastly one tree that was situated opposite to a roundabout in Ngunnawal. The trees were a combination of large, old and small trees. The trees were observed at 20 minute intervals each, and the birds species, time at which it the bird moved to the tree, the type of tree the bird had moved from, the actions the bird performed (e.g.; foraged, ate, used hollows, what type and angle of branch it landed on), and the direction and tree type the bird left to.

The first tree surveyed in the morning, it was a relatively old tree with lots of hollows

This work experience opportunity directly relates to the concept of threats to biodiversity through habitat loss which we learnt in week four. The biodiversity of bird species in Canberra is at threat due to the constant land clearing for development. The species-area curve concept was evident through this concept, a higher number of birds were measured in the private properties for example compared to the tree adjacent to the roundabout and in developed suburbs, area’s where species had a higher habitat area (defined by number of trees in the area) the higher the number of species present.

The observed tree that was adjacent to a roundabout, this was a relatively medium sized tree with no hollows. It also had no interaction with any bird species, which reiterates the species-area curve concept

Future directions:

Through this work experience opportunity, I experienced first-hand not just the concepts covered throughout this course, but also the use of different methodology. As an aspiring environmental conservationist, being a part of a conservation research study has been eye-opening not just to how studies are conducted, but to issues that may arise during the process as well. During the surveying process, there was one tree in specific that we could not measure on that day, which had been a part of the longitudinal study for several of years. The tree was now a part of a developmental site for a new suburb, and that was an issue as it meant that reaching the tree to observe its species interaction was not possible, which in turn would affect the outcome of the study as yearly data is needed. My personal take on what should be done in order to minimize habitat loss due to urbanization in Canberra is through getting communities involved, as many of the decision making (e.g. taking down older trees because they’re not seen as aesthetically pleasing) are made in order to satisfy the communities that will be residing in those suburbs. Setting up meetings with community councils to explain the importance of maintaining these habitats is essential, and outlining the benefits of having more green spaces and trees in neighborhoods. In Melbourne for example, it was found that a 5% fall in urban tree cover can account for a 1-2C rise in temperatures (The Conversation, 2017), such facts and figures may be enough to sway some local communities into opposing the clearing out of trees at the extent that is currently being carried out. In conclusion, I personally feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of this long-term study, not everyone gets to go out on the field and carry out survey’s with world class researchers and get an insight into their formidable knowledge- so lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Phillip Gibbons for this wonderful and rewarding experience.


U5732197, Noora Albalooshi


MARTIN, T. and McINTYRE, S. (2007). Impacts of Livestock Grazing and Tree Clearing on Birds of Woodland and Riparian Habitats. Conservation Biology, 21(2), pp.504-514.

The Conversation. (2017). Fewer trees leave the outer suburbs out in the heat. [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/fewer-trees-leave-the-outer-suburbs-out-in-the-heat-33299 [Accessed 12 Oct. 2017].

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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1 Response to Early bird catches the worm

  1. Thanks for coming along Noora! Phil

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