Student’s innovative design a game-changer in safeguarding wildlife populations

20 APRIL 2023

Student’s innovative design a game-changer in safeguarding wildlife populations

A Charles Sturt research team has developed a temperature-controlled alternative to tree hollows and timber nest boxes and has pushed the idea into the production phase with Habitech.

  • Research team develops temperature-controlled artificial environment for native animals as an alternative to dwindling tree hollows

Charles Sturt University ecologists and engineers have created an alternative artificial environment for Australia’s native animals to call home, providing a solution to dwindling tree hollows

Tree hollows provide habitats for about 15 per cent of the country’s native animals, including the endangered Greater Gliders and Glossy Black Cockatoos, but the number of hollows has declined dramatically in the past century, as large trees were cleared for development.

Timber nest boxes are commonly installed as artificial habitats but have been found to have a limited lifespan and become extremely hot, exceeding 50 degrees.

Ecologists and engineers from Charles Sturt worked to create another alternative using 3D printing technology.

Charles Sturt student Mr Mick Callan was the lead researcher under the guidance of Professor in Ecology David Watson in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences. Mr Callan was completing the Graduate Certificate in Ornithology while completing this research as well as a Bachelor of Science (Honours), which was supervised by Professor Watson.

Mr Callan and research contributor Mr Carl Tippler are also directors at Habitat Innovation and Management, and Habitech, which manufactured the nest boxes.

“Many people have tinkered around the edges and tried to improve timber nest boxes without making significant improvements,” Mr Callan said.

“We started with the problems of high temperature fluctuations inside timber boxes, their short lifespan in the field, and the lack of natural shapes and designed a new kind of artificial hollow using 3D printing technology.”

nest boxesThe resulting plastic nest boxes have natural shapes and textures, will last for decades and offer insulation in hot and cold conditions.

Testing showed that the new design was six-to-seven degrees cooler than the maximum daytime temperature and five degrees warmer than the pre-dawn chill.

Professor Watson said once the research team realised the temperature issues with the conventional nesting boxes, they were able to readjust their design to safeguard animal populations against extreme climates.

“Many kinds of Australian animals rely on hollows for nesting, but without woodpeckers or other animals that make cavities, all our fauna is reliant on large trees where hollows have slowly formed over decades, even centuries,” he said.

“With big trees becoming rarer in the landscape, there are simply not enough homes to go around, and nest boxes are an effective way to increase nesting habitats to arrest population declines.

“By using 3D printing to make a whole range of prototypes, we could focus in on those design criteria that make the most difference to the internal conditions during hot weather. 

“Rather than shape or size, colour or plastic density, our trials demonstrated that double-walled designs are critical – just like a double brick house, much better able to stay cool inside.”

The positive results have been published in the current edition of Austral Ecology and inspired Mr Callan and Mr Tippler to take the concept through an industrial design phase to commercial production.

The result is the modular Habitech nest box range being distributed by Habitat Innovation and Management.

Media Note:

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on 0429 217 026 or

Photo captions: (Image 1) Mr Mick Callan and Mr Carl Tippler inspect one of the sites with the plastic nest boxes (image 2).

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Albury-Wodonga Wagga Wagga Charles Sturt University Research