Tracking a feathery tale - feather mapping

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The humble feather has a story to tell and staff from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage are helping to tell it.

A new research project aims to build a ‘feather map’ to track waterbird movement around Australia.

Volunteers have heeded the call and are now collecting feathers to be analysed by a team of scientists.

The project is a collaboration between with the University of NSW and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Using stable isotope and elemental analysis, it will show what foods the waterbirds have eaten and absorbed, where they have travelled to in order to get that food and characteristics of the sites they have chosen for nesting.

Dr Kate Brandis is one of the researchers behind the project.

She is encouraging ‘citizen scientists’ to send in the fallen feathers they find at local wetlands and contribute to the ‘feather map’.

“The end product will help to inform the management of wetlands for waterbirds across the country,” Dr Brandis said.

Collecting feathers in the field. Photo J Ocock OEH.

Collecting feathers in the field. Photo J Ocock OEH.

“Demand for water is constantly increasing while the frequency of flooding in wetlands in falling.

“This means fewer breeding opportunities for waterbirds and declining populations, particularly in the Murray Darling Basin.

“By understanding the movement of waterbirds, their dietary needs and preferred conditions, environmental managers can use the available water resources more efficiently,” Dr Brandis said.

Citizen scientists are asked to collect moulted (or fallen) feathers from wetland sites. Birds are not to be caught or harassed.

In an envelope, include the feather along with GPS co-ordinates and species name if known and send to:
Kate Brandis
Centre for Ecosystem Science
Room 508, D26
Kensington 2052

NSW OEH environmental scientist Dr Jennifer Spencer said OEH staff were pleased to lend a hand.

“We are in the field regularly, so picking up feathers at sites in the Murray Darling Basin is easy to do,” Dr Spencer said.

“This project will provide new information on the movement and dispersal patterns of waterbird species.

“It has the potential to benefit OEH in the way environmental water resources are managed in key wetlands across NSW.

“It’s such a simple task and anyone can get involved,” she said.

For further information about contributing to the ‘feather map’, go to or email

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