Nuclear physics uses single feather to track and help save Australian waterbirds

PHOTO: Wetlands and the numbers of bird that inhabit them are on the decline, scientists say. (Supplied: Kate Brandis )

PHOTO: Wetlands and the numbers of bird that inhabit them are on the decline, scientists say. (Supplied: Kate Brandis )

Scientists are using nuclear physics to track and potentially save Australia's declining waterbird numbers — and they are doing it with discarded feathers.

The team of researchers are using a new method developed at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to work out where a bird has been and what it has eaten using the chemical composition of the feathers.

The analysis is providing crucial information to help governments plan to protect wetlands and the declining number of birds that inhabit them.

But scientists find it hard to work out by exactly how much because populations fluctuate between floods and droughts.