Beak Speak


 Elusive Powerful Owls in Melbourne - GPS Technology Keeps Eagle Eye

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Deakin University's media release of Tuesday, 19 April 2016 says that scientists are using GPS technology to monitor how Melbourne’s Powerful Owls make use of urban landscapes. The researchers, from the Centre for Integrative Ecology within Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, are hoping the GPS monitors will help reveal how to conserve Australia’s largest owl (Ninox strenua), which come out to play when the lights go out around town.


The study is part of student Nick Bradsworth’s honours project, with six Powerful Owls so far fitted with a radio transmitter and GPS logger, which takes a reading every 20 minutes.

Preliminary data shows the owls are covering large areas of around four square kilometres across 12 nights.


Mr Bradsworth said the loggers would be removed a month after they were fitted, revealing the owls’ fine-scale use of the urban environment.

“The radio transmitter will allow us to check on the animal, find daytime roost sites and so on,” Mr Bradsworth said.


Project supervisor Associate Professor Raylene Cooke said apex predators such as Powerful Owls were critical components of our ecosystem, and working out how to conserve and maintain them was important to ensure the future health of the entire system.


“The major challenge in this research is actually catching the owls, something very few researchers have been able to do with Powerful Owls,” Associate Professor Cooke said.


“Utilising our previous experience with this and other species of owls, we are one of the few groups currently able to do such an ambitious project.”
She said Powerful Owls were known to inhabit restricted areas of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.


“They are generally associated with parks and reserves making a living eating the many possums that also call the city their home,” Associate Professor Cooke said.


“They have also occasionally been shown to successfully breed in some urban reserves, but only if there is an enormous tree hollow – a very rare urban resource.


“The question is how much time do they spend using suburban backyards and other urban areas?


“Answering this question is critical to developing better urban planning guidelines for the conservation and enhancement of urban Powerful Owl populations.”

Mr Bradsworth said keeping a watch on owls had been an ongoing interest.


“I have always been particularly fond of owls and in recent years, whilst I have been studying my undergrad, I have been lucky enough to monitor a breeding pair of powerful owls in a local reserve,” he said.


“I have spent countless numbers of nights watching and following this pair, waiting for their chicks to leave the nest, and watching the chicks take their first (clumsy) flight from the hollow.


“I also have a growing interest in modern technology in the field and the transmitters that we will be using have dramatically decreased in size, weight and cost in recent years.


“Upon completion of my honours year, I am hoping I will be able to apply my experience with these transmitters and project management to future work in wildlife research.”


To follow the stories and photographs of Australia’s urban Powerful Owls on Twitter, check out
Melbourne residents who know of some Powerful Owls can report them via BirdLife Australia’s Melbourne Powerful Owl Project website.


Media contact:
Rebecca Tucker
Senior Media Coordinator, Deakin University
P: 03 5227 8568
M: 0418 979 134
T: @Deakin Media

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