Counting our backyard birds

This week, don’t miss out on The Aussie Backyard Bird Count! Combine nationwide citizen science with an excuse to take time out of your busy week to re-connect with nature!

I’ve always had an interest in birds. Call it a combination of my birding heritage and a UK childhood. Most of my family road trip memories (those that don’t involve fighting with my brothers) are of reading from cover to cover whichever field guide was sitting in the car seat back pocket. Because so many are conspicuously active all around us, even in the suburbs, birds are just so easy to become interested in. This makes birding a great way to get kids interested in the diversity and splendour of nature.

This week, Birdlife Australia is running its second Aussie Backyard Bird Count: a nationwide census of Australian birds, collected by the Australian public. The count provides Birdlife Australia with vital distribution and abundance data, which can be compared with previous surveys. Such a grand scale snapshot is only possible with the help of thousands of interested Aussies.  Already this year, over 17,000 checklists have been submitted and nearly 600,000 birds sighted! You can hop onto for more statistics, to see a national map of sightings and get involved.

It is really easy to take part in the count. All you need is 20 free minutes outdoors and the awesome Aussie Backyard Bird Count app (available on both Google Play and the App Store). Over the last 24 hours, I’ve completed 4 of the 20 minute surveys, at home, work and the local lake - and I’ve enjoyed the experience far more than I expected! It is rare that I give myself 20 minutes of downtime during the week, but scheduling these surveys meant I got to relax AND contribute to conservation science! I was truly connected with nature, all my senses attuned to the sights and sounds around me. I felt seriously relaxed and happy after each survey, and was really interested to see how the diversity of species differed at each site. Here is what I managed to turn up….


My Backyard...

This is my fairly sterile and exotic backyard. I didn’t expect to see much of interest, but all sightings are important in surveys like this. I took tea and nutella crumpets with me for company. It took a while to see anything more interesting than a Magpie, but I was pleased to spot some White-browed Scrubwrens and New Holland Honeyeaters! In the last minute I was rewarded with the awesome sight of at least 60 Straw-necked Ibis flying in formation overhead! Why don’t you give your front or back garden a go, you’ll be surprised at what you can see!



My field site...

I am lucky to work within the gorgeous Nobbies area of Phillip Island. After my fieldwork this morning, I decided to see what I could turn up for the Bird Count. I forgot to save this list, but I can tell you that I saw a wonderful mix of seabirds (Silver, Pacific and Kelp Gulls and Sooty Oystercatchers), terrestrial natives (Swamp Harriers, Magpies, Little Ravens, Welcome Swallows, Magpie-larks, Straw-necked Ibis, Cape Barren Geese) and common introduced species (Common Starlings and Songlarks). I was kept pretty busy making sure I could discern the difference between Kelp and Pacific Gulls in flight, as well as keeping an eye on a pair of marauding ravens out hunting for unsuspecting Little Penguin chicks.

The work carpark...

The carpark at work is actually pretty awesome for spotting wildlife.  During this survey, I enjoyed sharing my lunch break with a young family of Purple Swamphens (the adults look like feathered dinosaurs and the chicks look like black puffballs on stilts). Also entertaining was the Swamp Harrier that kept swooping down to terrorise the grazing geese, swamphens and Masked Plovers.





The local reserve... 

This is the survey I had been looking forward to all day. After work, I headed to nearby Swan Lake, a sizeable lake and floodplain with a couple of well-placed bird hides. Afternoon bliss! I was treated to families of Black-fronted Dotterels and Red-capped Plovers scurrying along the waterline, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebes diving in one place and resurfacing in another, and even a Musk Duck! But I was most delighted to watch a large group of White-fronted Chats, both adult and juvenile, foraging on the flats and perching in the trees. Counting all those Eurasian Coots was a bit of a nightmare though!  




Get involved!

So why not get involved? Grab a mate, get the kids together or chill on your own and enjoy getting to know the local birdlife. You don’t have to be an expert to take part because there are plenty of resources and prompts on the website and app to guide you. The count runs until this Sunday, the 25th of October, and you can take part literally anywhere in Australia. There are also some great prizes to be won (as if contributing to nationwide science wasn’t reward enough in itself!). Check out the to find out more! And don’t forget to share your sightings with us on Facebook, Twitter (@WildMelbourne) and Instagram via the #wildmelbourne hashtag.