News & Stories

Safeguarding an iconic bird of prey

Research into reducing the impacts of wind turbines and disturbance from forestry activity on the endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is underway at the University of Tasmania.

School of Natural Sciences Professor Chris Johnson will lead the $720,000 study, which is funded by the Australian Research Council through its latest Linkage Project scheme.

“This project will help us build the clearest picture yet of how many eagles there are, where they are, and how we can manage any potential risks or impacts to the population across Tasmania,” Professor Johnson said.

“Large soaring birds of prey like the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle are especially vulnerable to decline due to their small population and interaction with human land uses, like wind turbines and forestry operations. 

Professor Chris Johnson

Effective management of these threats is essential both for the persistence of the eagles and for the sustainable development of Tasmania's renewable energy and forest industries.

Professor Chris Johnson

Fifty adult eagles will be fitted with GPS backpacks to track their movements, providing insight into flight behaviour and how breeding birds respond to forestry activities during the nesting period.

It will expand on a previous study by Dr James Pay that developed the use of GPS backpacks to monitor a group of juvenile wedge-tailed eagles across Tasmania.

“The GPS-tagged eagles in this new study will provide an outstandingly rich data set on the movements of adult birds, which we will use to build detailed models of flight behaviour and collision risk around wind turbines,” Dr Pay said.

Dr James Pay prepares to release an eagle

The researchers will monitor what effect forestry activity might have on breeding pairs by comparing the behaviour of eagles with and without disturbance at the same nest. This will help answer the question of whether short-term disturbance of nests has a long-term effect on breeding.

They will also combine the GPS data with observational surveys to estimate the size and distribution of the eagle population across Tasmania.

The project provides funding for four higher-degree research positions, including two PhD and two Honours students, and is supported by partners including Forest Practices Authority, The Bookend Trust, US Geological Society and the University of Canterbury.