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Eavesdropping on wetland birds

the project

The foundation of this research is a collaboration between ecology and computer science.

This project is a part of a new era in environmental monitoring. Technology is increasingly informing conservation management via automated data collection, algorithms to streamline classification and decision-supporting tools that can balance the needs of different stakeholders.

It’s non-invasive, efficient and cost-effective therefore minimising disturbance to habitat and species. We are using acoustic monitoring technology and remote motion-sensor cameras are being used to extend time and location data collection in order to detect wetland bird species and monitor their diversity. The timing and frequency of the noises the birds make vary seasonally and can also be used to detect breeding events.

To protect our valuable wetlands, we need to better understand them. Luckily, wetland birds are sensitive indicators of the area’s health, though there’s a small catch – they’re also notoriously secretive in their behaviour! We are monitoring a selection of wetlands in south-eastern Australia and Tasmania.

how to support this project
eavesdropping on wetland birds

acoustic recordings

We listen for wetland birds (and other species) because sometimes it is easier to hear them than it is to see them!

At each wetland, we have recorded hundreds of hours of sound, and that totals to thousands of hours of sound in total from all the wetlands.

This is where the computer analysis helps as we then automatically look for some species but can also look at the whole wetland sound in one image. This is called a long-duration false-colour spectrogram.

acoustic readings chart
visit the acoustic website

research objectives

To better understand the distribution of little-known wetland bird species in south-eastern Australia.

To trial large-scale deployment of acoustic sensors with manual data collection.

To improve artificial intelligence training datasets.

To determine the presence or absence of bird species.

meet the team

Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Znidersic - Ecologist / Ornithologist

Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Znidersic

Ecologist / Ornithologist

Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Znidersic is a post-doctoral researcher with Charles Sturt University. Her major research interests include survey methodologies and the application of technological tools to monitor individual species and ecosystems, wetland species and their management and island biodiversity and species reintroductions/translocations. Liz’s research has led her into the wetlands of Australia and the USA, searching for some the most secretive wetland birds using acoustic and motion-activated camera monitoring. She has worked extensively in the field as a ranger, field ecologist and environmental educator with nature-based tourism.


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Dr Michael Towsey Bioacoustics Researcher

Dr Michael Towsey

Bioacoustics Researcher

Dr Michael Towsey uses machine learning methods to solve biological problems. These have ranged from the sublime (analysis of bird song) to the ridiculous (analysis of milk yield in cow herds) with some bioinformatics in between! Michael works on the ‘big data’ problems associated with long duration recordings of the environment, in particular, building recognizers for species of interest, extracting acoustic indices to aid navigation and visualisation. He is currently submerged in the sounds of wetlands.

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Professor David Watson Ecologist

Professor David Watson


Professor David M Watson’s research falls into three principal areas: managing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes; measuring and predicting the biological effects of habitat fragmentation; and the ecology of parasitic plants. His research has been conducted through detailed community-level field studies in Australia and Latin America; species-specific studies of distribution and abundance; theoretical advances; empirical studies based on previously published data; & synthetic reviews consolidating existing information and proposing new hypotheses.

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Wetlands support approximately 40 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and play a critical role in human health and the health of our planet, including in climate change mitigation. But we must understand them if we’re going to protect them.

wetland birds

Have you ever considered what creatures are hiding in the reeds around a wetland?

Birds like rails, crakes, snipes and bitterns are rarely seen or heard but can give us insights into wetland vitality. We need to learn more about their distribution, population status and ecology.

Some of the wetland bird species we are monitoring are 

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