Birds in Backyards FAQs
What is Birds in Backyards?
Birds in Backyards is a research, education and conservation program of BirdLife Australia. We are focused on the birds that live where people live, and engaging people in activities that help to protect them. You can get involved by taking part in our Backyard Bird surveys or by becoming a member. You can learn how to create bird-friendly spaces in your garden and local community and find out more about Australian birds and their habitats.
What is BirdLife Australia?
BirdLife Australia is the nation’s largest bird conservation organisation and an independent, not-for-profit organisation. With our specialised knowledge and the commitment of our extensive network of members, volunteers and supporters, we protect birds and their habitats through our conservation projects, education programs and informed advocacy.
What is a survey?
A survey is simply recording what you see! For a Birds in Backyards survey, all you need to do is spend 20 minutes, in your backyard or in another favourite place, and take note of the birds you see. Tally up the number of birds of each type. If you can do this, you can do a survey!
How do I participate in a Birds in Backyards survey?
To do a Birds in Backyards survey, spend 20 minutes in one spot where you can view birds. During the 20 minutes, note down the birds that you observe and count how many you see of each species. Once you have completed your count, you can submit it to BirdLife through Birdata. You can do a Birds in Backyards survey in your actual backyard (or front yard), at local park, school or other favourite outdoor space.
What is Birdata?
Birdata is BirdLife Australia’s online portal and collection of the results of bird surveys across the country. Anyone can sign up, it’s free and can be accessed on the web portal or you can download the app from your app store. Once you have signed up, you will be able to use Birdata to record bird surveys, view your past surveys, explore Birdata and the portal’s collective data by viewing maps, species and statistics, and much more!
What tools do I need to do a Birds in Backyards survey?
You can submit your surveys through the Birdata online portal or use the app available for free from your app store on your device. Sign up for a Birdata account here. When you are ready to enter your count on Birdata, choose “Birds in Backyards” under the Record Survey section and follow the prompts. You don’t need any other tools –if you don’t have binoculars don’t worry, in a garden you will be able to see the birds visiting you quite easily. You can use a field guide or our Bird Finder as well, but the Birds in Backyards surveys show you a prepopulated list of 30 birds from your region that you are likely to encounter.
Where can I get help with Birdata?
Birdata is easy to use once you know your way around, but it can take some getting used to. General Birdata instructions are available here.
We also have some step-by-step guides specific to Birds in Backyards surveys to get you started. You can find them for the web portal and the app.
What happens with the survey data?
The information that you enter on your survey will be used by BirdLife Australia and particularly the Urban Bird Program team to research how our urban birds are doing and how different gardens and their features impact birds. It informs us about the types of gardens that can attract different types of birds –and what features some birds may be avoiding.
Survey data is stored on the Birdata portal, so you can view your own past surveys and data, and explore Birdata’s collective data by viewing maps, species and statistics. We compile the results of Birdata surveys and report on them to Birds in Backyards members in our e-News(make sure you are subscribed via your BirdLife Australia account), and on the Birds in Backyards website. We use the survey data in seminars and workshops conducted by Birds in Backyards staff, and for specific projects such as our Powerful Owl project or at the request of different universities, schools or local councils. Your private information is never given to a third party, unless with your express consent.
Surveys – when and why
Why should I do a Birds in Backyards survey?
Participating in Birds in Backyards surveys is free, fun, and easy. You can complete surveys with your family or friends, on your own or with your class or community. It’s a great way for participants of all ages and abilities to learn –about your local birds, nature and habitats, citizen science, identification and conservation. Doing a Birds in Backyards survey lets you contribute to what scientists know, to help them protect birds –your survey information tells us how birds are doing and how our gardens impact the birds visiting. You can also be in the running for prizes, and experience the health and wellbeing benefits that being in nature can bring.
When can I do a Birds in Backyards survey?
Any time you want to do a Birds in Backyards survey, you can! The Birds in Backyards surveys are accessible all year round. Some people like to just participate once a quarter (or four times a year) in our seasonal surveys, while others like to count their birds more frequently.
How many surveys can I do?
You can do as many surveys as you like, as often as you like! Some people like to just participate once a quarter (or four times a year) in our seasonal surveys, while others like to count their birds more frequently. All your survey data is valuable, no matter when you submit it
What are the seasonal – Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring – surveys?
Each quarter we launch a seasonal survey. By dividing the year up by seasons we can track changes in bird communities at the same four times each year – Summer (December & January), Autumn (March & April), Winter (June & July), and Spring (September & October).
What is the difference between a 20 minute count and a weekly list?
The 20 minute count and the weekly list are the two options for Birds in Backyards surveys. For the 20 minute count you record the birds observed, and how many of each species. The consistent length of this survey type means BirdLife can examine which birds are visiting and how many of them. For analysis purposes, this is the most useful method. The weekly list lets you keep a longer-term record of birds you observe and the incidental birds you may see unexpectedly. Because there is no set time for this method, BirdLife can only examine which birds are visiting, not how many individual birds there are. You can include the ‘how many’ in the survey when you submit it and keep it for your own records.
Can I count birds for longer than 20 minutes?
If you want to count for longer than 20 minutes, we suggest you submit consecutive 20 minute counts –two 20 minute surveys for 40 minutes, or three for an hour-long survey. This is because 20 minutes is the standard period for a BirdLife Australia bird survey. Keeping in line with other surveys and having everyone counting for the same time means the data we receive will be more scientifically robust, allowing us to use it in our conservation efforts.
About My Site
Can I do a Birds in Backyards survey if I don’t have a backyard?
Yes! There are a couple of different options if you don’t have a backyard. If you have a shared space where you live, you could complete the survey there, you can survey from your balcony, or even from your window. You could do a survey at a local park, school or other favourite outdoor space. When you complete the site/garden details just fill it out as best you can for the area you are surveying.
How can I work out how big my survey site is?
You can measure your space using a tape measure, a piece of rope cut to an appropriate length, or an object like a broom that you know the length of. There are also lots of great tools online which allow you to calculate the size of your garden (or the area you are surveying). You could try Google Maps, or something like www.mapdevelopers.com/area_finder.php
Do I have to enter the site details on Birdata every time I do a survey?
No! Birdata automatically remembers all the information you fill in for each of the sites/gardens you have set up. Make sure you select your existing site in the ‘Location’ tab rather than setting up a new one. When you do another survey of the same site it will ask ‘has your site/garden changed since your last survey’ – just click ‘No’ and continue through to the survey. If you do make changes to your site, such as planting shrubs, getting a dog, stopped feeding birds, select ‘Yes’ and adjust the relevant sections.
How do I do a survey if I live on a big property?
If you have a big property you may want to set up multiple survey locations. You can do this on an average block as well if you would like to survey your front yard and your backyard, Choose sites on your property that have different features for birds, for example, a grassed area for one site, and a treed area as a second site. In Birdata, when you set your location, zoom in nice and close and pick your site. You can then give it a name and record the habitat features under ‘Details’ for that particular place you are counting in.
Where can I find information on bird-friendly gardening or other bird-attracting activities to encourage more birds into my space?
Birds need a home (habitat) to live, breed and bring up their families. This means food, shelter, water and nesting sites. On the Birds in Backyards website, in the Creating Places for Birds section, you can find lots of information about how to provide suitable habitat for birds and other wildlife in your own backyard.
Counting Birds in Birdata
Can I participate if I don’t know anything about birds?
Yes! The Birdata web portal and app both have great features to help you if you are just getting started, and doing a survey is a great way to learn. When you get to the bird survey page you will see a prepopulated list of 30 birds that are found in your immediate area, with photos! Search through that list and you should see most, if not all of the birds that are in your garden.
Where can I get help identifying birds?
Check out the Birds in Backyards Bird Finder on the Birds in Backyards website, or download the free Aussie Bird Count app, which has a field guide function, from the app store on your device. You can purchase field guide apps and hard copy field guides too. If you have a mystery bird that you can’t identify, snap a photo or video and email it to us email@example.com or tag us on social media.
Do I need binoculars or other special equipment?
No! All you need is 20 minutes, your favourite outdoor spot and the Birdata app or web portal to start counting. See which birds you can spot in your space –if they are too far away to identify, then simply exclude them from your survey. And if you can’t access the web portal or app while you are doing your survey, you can note what you see on paper, and record the details in Birdata later.
Can I count a bird that flies overhead?
The Birds in Backyards surveys are all about the birds that are using your outdoor space. We are interested in the birds visiting and what is attracting them to your garden – the type of garden features you have. So if a bird is flying straight through, then don’t count the bird and just enjoy seeing it. However, if you have a bird circling overhead that is obviously checking out your place (like birds of prey or Welcome Swallows do) then that bird can be counted as it is searching your space.
Do I count the birds I hear but don’t see?
If you can identify birds by their calls, and you can hear that the bird is calling from within your survey site, yes, include it in your count. If you aren’t sure of a bird without seeing it, or if it is not inside your survey area, please exclude it. To train your ear, you can get to know your Top 40 Bird Songs.
What if a bird flies into my space, leaves and then comes back. Do I count it twice?
This can be a bit tricky because it can sometimes be hard to tell if it is the same bird returning. However, we want to know the actual number of birds, not the number of times birds visit, so try to keep track of the birds in the area, and just count each bird once. One way to do this is by recording the highest number of individual birds of each species that you see together at any one time. For example, three magpies might pop into the garden, head next door and then two come back again –that is three birds, not five.
How do I include a bird not already in the Birdata list on my screen?
Birdata shows you the top 30 most common species recorded in your general area (a 20km radius), but sometimes you will observe species that are not included. To search for and add a species not on your list on the Birdata web portal, go to the ‘Sightings’ tab and type the name of the bird in the search bar at the top that says ‘Search by species name’. When you see the species name you need, select it from the list. To search for and add a species not on your list on the Birdata app, use the search bar that says ‘Search by species name’. Type the name of the bird in there. When you see the name of the bird, click on it and it will add to your list. Birdata will warn you if a particular species may be out of its usual range –however, this won’t keep you from submitting it (although a quick note to say ‘definite ID’ or similar is needed).
How do I delete a bird from my survey?
On the Birdata web portal there will be an ‘X’ on the far right hand side of the screen for each bird listed. To remove a bird, click on that ‘X’. On the app, swipe left on the bird you want to delete and a red ‘delete’ option will appear. Click it to delete the bird from your list.
What if I don’t see many/any many birds?
That is really useful! We want to know about the birds you don’t see just as much as the ones you do. So if your list is only small, all introduced birds or full of birds you don’t think are very ‘exciting’, that is still important information for us. All surveys are important so please keep going.