Automated tracking of avian parental care behavior

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Grace Smith-Vidaurre, Tania Molina, Erich D. Jarvis, Elizabeth A. Hobson


1. Parental care may be an important source of phenotypic variation for ecological and evolutionary processes. However, it can be difficult to collect and interpret data on parental care behaviors. To address these challenges, we developed a new hardware and software platform for automated behavioral tracking called ABISSMAL (Automated Behavioral Tracking by Integrating Sensors that Survey Movements Around a target Location).

2. ABISSMAL automatically collects data across low-cost sensors with built-in system monitoring and error logging. ABISSMAL also generates behavioral inferences with internal validation by integrating data across multiple movement sensors.

3. We successfully used ABISSMAL to track nest attendance activities performed by captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) that raised chicks through fledging. We highlight the behavioral inferences that ABISSMAL can derive from integrated datasets that represent discrete movement events, including types of behaviors, and the direction and magnitude of movements.

4. ABISSMAL streamlines the process of automated data collection, curation, and interpretation for researchers studying parental care across many experimental replicates and over long developmental timescales. ABISSMAL is a modular system that can be deployed with different combinations of sensors to suit different research questions and experimental setups. We made ABISSMAL open-access on GitHub with detailed documentation to facilitate widespread use and modification.



Behavior and Ethology, Biology, Life Sciences


Automated behavioral tracking, Avian parental care behavior, Infrared beam breakers, Integration across sensors, Motion-detection video recording, Movement detection, Radio-frequency identification technology, Raspberry Pi


Published: 2023-11-16 01:46


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data and Code Availability Statement:
Software and documentation for ABISSMAL are publicly available on GitHub: We uploaded the code that we used to pre-process data, integrate data, and make figures to GitHub: We published data associated with this manuscript on figshare: