How hi-tech tree homes will help save wildlife

An Australian-first research project will trial an innovative solution to provide cosy homes for the Sunshine Coast’s tree loving wildlife.

How hi-tech tree homes will help save wildlife

In the peaceful Baroon Pocket Environment Reserve, in Mapleton, 77 hardwood nest boxes have been installed amongst the tree canopy to mimic hollows that would otherwise take hundreds of years to develop naturally.

These are hoped to create safehouses for precious creatures, including the powerful owl, cockatoos, squirrel glider, greater glider, possum, micro bats and antechinus – a small mouse-like native marsupial – and help us learn more about their secret world.

Cutting edge technology in the form of specially designed passive infrared detectors have been attached to each box to record animal activity, temperature and humidity, and transmit data back to a station.

The project is part of a long-term plan to restore the reserve and has come together thanks to a special partnership between Sunshine Coast Council, Biodiverse Environmental and Project Ninox.

Why we need nest boxes

Sunshine Coast Council’s Natural Areas Officer Steven Milner said biodiversity within a reserve relied on a plentiful supply of suitable habitat for wildlife.

“On the Sunshine Coast there is a lack of natural hollows for birds such as the powerful owl, or marsupials, like the antechinus, to live in,” Mr Milner said.

“This is because it can take up to 150 to 200 years for trees to age, go into decline and hollows to form. Very few trees here are that old due to past successive logging.

“Nest boxes are bridging the gap – fast forwarding time to create instant habitat for our wildlife today.

“This greatly benefits our region’s biodiversity and supports the survival of these species for generations and generations to come.”  

What’s different about these nest boxes

Usually nest boxes are made from 16mm thick plywood which can only last from seven to 15 years and doesn’t provide much protection from the heat or cold.

Mr Milner said nest boxes were constructed with native hardwood salvaged from road development projects and milled into 40mm rough sawn timber.

“We expect them to last for 40 years or more,” Mr Milner said.

“Apart from the obvious sustainability benefit of a longer lasting box, it also smells and feels more like the natural environment of our local fauna – and so we hope it’s more enticing as well.

“Using native timber should also help the temperature and humidity inside the box remain constant.

“Specially developed technology will allow us to test this theory as well as provide scientific data we can base future management decisions on.”

What the sensors do – ‘Project Ninox’

Project Ninox designed the innovative detectors attached to each box.

Every 15 seconds these record movement, humidity and temperature inside the box and send data back to the base station.

Director Jack Spittle said the sensors were innovative in the conservation field because they used minimal power, had a long life span and allowed for real-time activity monitoring without the need for supervision.

“This makes large scale conservation programs cost effective and feasible,” Mr Spittle said.  

“We hope this project is a catalyst to change the way monitoring is done in the future.”

Designing, building and installing the nest boxes

Biodiverse Environmental designed, built,  installed the nest boxes and worked closely with Project Ninox to fine tune and bring this new technology into the environmental field.

Director Liam Pratt said incorporating innovative technology into the project would allow each nest box to be closely monitored and more so than ever before.

“This means we will be able to track how successful our designs have been in re-creating the very niche environment each target species needs to thrive in,” Mr Pratt said.

“More importantly this includes tracking how the reclaimed-hardwood nest boxes compare with the plywood versions.

“We’ve used industry information and our own on-the-ground experience to design each box with a particular species in mind.

“For example, with the powerful owl, we know it needs a large entrance, a large box size and grooves on the inside to act as a ladder to climb out, using its beak and claws.

“We then place it in a part of a tree with space to enable it to swoop up into the entry.

“When each box is installed, we record all the details like host tree species, aspect, height, how sheltered it is, what type of wood it’s made of and what species the box is targeted to.

“The sensor is activated when the box is secured in the tree, and a GPS records its location.

“The sensor data tells us when the animal is active inside the box – so we can visually spot it to confirm what species is using it and track the habits of the animal andthe condition of the box over time.

“It also monitors each box’s thermoregulation capabilities – its ability to keep a constant temperature – and humidity which is important when providing animal refuge and to ensure breeding cycles are successful.”

“Ultimately, this is an opportunity to create better habitat for our wildlife.”

About Baroon Pocket Environmental Reserve

For the last few years, council has used the assisted regeneration technique to restore the Baroon Pocket Environmental Reserve. 

Sunshine Coast Environment Portfolio Councillor Peter Cox said weeds choking the reserve were being progressively removed to give native seeds lying dormant in the soil a chance to see the sun and germinate.

“The land was historically cleared as a grazing paddock, so it doesn’t have a lot of habitat but surveys have found endangered spiny crayfish, a platypus in the creek and a large variety of birdlife,” Cr Cox said.

“Imagine what could be once its restored.

“With this project we will see if we have been successful in achieving our ultimate goal of improving its biodiversity by drawing in new species into the reserve.”

Special thanks to Jacob Champney and Kirean Aland for sparking the idea for the trial and connecting Sunshine Coast Council with Project Ninox.

Target species for the nest boxes:

  • Brushtail Possum (Common & Short-eared)
  • Microbat- hollow-roosting spp.
  • Squirrel/Sugar Glider
  • Greater Glider
  • Antechinus
  • Sooty Owl
  • Powerful Owl
  • Masked Owl
  • Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
  • Glossy Black Cockatoo
  • Australian Owlet-nightjar
  • Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  • King Parrot
  • Laughing Kookaburra
  • Pale-headed Rosella
  • Forest Kingfisher