Glasgow & West Scotland

Glasgow University uses thermal imaging to detect stress in birds

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Media captionThe Glasgow University team is using thermal imaging to detect stress levels in birds

Scientists from Glasgow University are using thermal images of birds and a stuffed sparrowhawk on a pulley system to measure stress in the natural world.

The sparrowhawk is sent down a length of clothes line, picking up speed as it approaches a busy woodland bird table.

Thermal cameras record changes in bird body temperatures as the perceived risk of predator attack rises.

This allows researchers to measure how animals respond to environmental changes without taking blood samples.

Dr Ross MacLeod, from the university's Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, said: "We're studying the birds because we want to understand how animals are responding to environmental change, particularly climate change.

'Brilliant imaging'

"We look at the birds because they are a very good way of understanding how individual animals are being stressed by different environmental risks."

The research is taking place at the Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.

It is complex and painstaking work but relies on a low-tech piece of equipment - a sparrowhawk, obtained from a taxidermist, and fitted with a pulley.

Dr MacLeod said: "The thermal imaging is brilliant because you can just take a picture, and you can see how the temperature changes in their faces in the same way as it does in humans.

Image copyright University of Glasgow
Image caption A stuffed sparrowhawk on a pulley is used to increase stress levels in the birds

"If you are embarrassed, your face gets hotter. You can actually measure the stress of a human or a bird just by using these thermal imaging cameras."

The scientists believe their work could have a range of valuable practical applications.

Researcher Paul Jerem said: "It is very likely that we'll be able to use this technique across a wide range of species and so essentially anywhere that you can film an animal, you can collect data using this technique.

"It's a vast advance when you compare that to having to trap the animal, take a blood sample and then to analyse the blood."

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