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Case study

GPS tracking geese in Northern Ireland to better understand bird strike risk

In many cases, large populations of birds inhabiting areas around airports can create potential conflict and huge amounts of effort and money are invested in trying to reduce the risk of bird strikes.

A better understanding of the nature of local bird populations and detailed data on the extensiveness and timing of their movements is essential for informing effective management of bird strike risk. We have worked with Belfast City Airport to undertake GPS tracking work on Greylag Geese which are resident in Victoria Park which is adjacent to the runway. Using cutting edge tracking devices developed by us through the Movetech Telemetry partnership, GPS data are transmitted using the mobile phone network (GSM) which allows us to follow the movements of individuals in near real-time.


Location of Victoria Park, Belfast immediately adjacent to Belfast City Airport
Google earth, Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky, Image Landsat, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

 

The data collected can then be used to help revise understanding of risk and how it varies over time as well as identify the most important sites for birds in the surrounding area. Another advantage of tracking specific birds is that there is potential to record how individuals may respond to particular management practises which can help improve effectiveness. Belfast City Airport already invest considerable resources in responsible approaches to mitigating risks from local bird populations but with the additional information produced through this study they can better prioritise their efforts.


One of the study geese fitted with a GPS collar. Photo: Shane Wolsey

 

Using the new GSM technology to track birds was especially useful in reducing bias in the data collected. Often in tracking studies, the animals need to be recaptured or at least relocated to retrieve any data. By receiving regular updates via the mobile phone network we gain a better understanding of all birds tagged even if they leave the study area which helps identify how isolated or not local populations may be. For example, one of the geese tagged in Belfast turned out to be a migrant, flying to Scotland each year to breed. Quantifying proportions of any population which follow particular movement patterns can help prioritise when and where resources to reduce the risk of bird strike can be allocated.