ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Eavesdropping on wetland birds (2020 - 2021)


Private Philanthropic Gift
CSU Foundation Trust, $200,000.

Investigators/ researchers

Professor David Watson, Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Znidersic & Dr Michael Towsey

Research Theme

Biodiversity Conservation


This research project is the result of Charles Sturt's largest philanthropic research donation ($200,000 a year for two years, total of $400,000) made to the researchers specifically to investigate the distribution of wetland birds using innovative technology, and to then inform conservation management.

While wetland birds are recognised as sensitive indicators of wetland health, due to their secretive or cryptic behavior, understanding  little is known about their population status, distribution or ecology.

The project builds on previous work undertaken by the researchers using sound to monitor wildlife populations including the Australian Acoustic Observatory, a continental-scale array of acoustic recording units deployed around Australia, and Dr Znidersic's PhD project Optimising monitoring techniques for cryptic wetland birds.

The researchers are targetting around 50 wetlands in south-eastern Australia with study sites in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and up to the middle of Queensland. They have selected both remote wetlands that haven't been previously surveyed as well as wetlands that are frequented by bird-watchers. But by selecting some sites also frequented by bird watchers, they will be able to compare the data from the passive monitoring they are undertaking using camera traps and acoustic recording units with citizen science data.

The data they are collecting from camera traps and the acoustic recording units will be analysed using Artificial Intelligence.

As well as deploying the sensors and cameras, the researchers will undertake more traditional ecology field work such as looking at vegetation structure so that they can identify habitat association with species.

The project also intends to engage the community through live streaming of the acoustic data collection with Birdlife Australia and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the United States.


The expected outcomes of this project are:

  • a better understanding of the ecology, population status and distribution of cryptic wetland birds
  • an increase in the public's awareness of these species
  • by comparing data obtained through passive monitoring with citizen science data, a metric that potentially can be applied to other wetlands
  • that it demonstrates that passive monitoring and the use of AI to analyse ecological data is an efficient and cost-effective tool that compliments traditional ecological data collection


Professor David Watson

Albury-Wodonga campus


Dr Liz Znidersic


November 2020