The use of Google Earth (TM) satellite imagery to detect the nests of masked boobies Sula dactylatra

Bernard Hughes, Graham Martin, Silas Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Citations (Scopus)


Masked boobies Sula dactylatra, like many other species of Sulidae, do not construct elaborate nests. However, their nest sites produce a characteristic 'nest signature'. We found that these nest signatures could apparently be seen in freely available satellite images (Google Earth (TM)) of the main island of Ascension in the south Atlantic. We verified that this was the case by comparing nest signatures detected on these satellite images with field reports of occupied nests. We found that the locations of these nest signatures determined from satellite images agreed closely with the coordinates of actual nests on the ground. We used this information to determine the position and size of a previously unreported masked booby colony on the island. Thus, we show that the presence and abundance of some species can be estimated using freely available satellite imagery if a suitable signature in the satellite image can be found. Regularly updated satellite imagery of target sites could also be used for population monitoring. While this would be expensive, initial evaluation of the technique for particular species or populations can be achieved using freely available images. We encourage wildlife managers to view their study sites on Google Earth (TM) for evidence of their target species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-216
Number of pages7
JournalWildlife Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • Ascension Island
  • Army Ornithological Society
  • seabirds
  • population estimation
  • censusing
  • United Kingdom Overseas Territories
  • masked booby
  • Sula dactylatra
  • satellite imagery


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