The time has come once again for everyone to get involved in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, a massive citizen science project that, last year, saw more than 4.6 million birds counted nationally. Last year (2020) was the biggest participation record for Bird Life Australia, and organisers are keen to be bigger and better this year.
You might have noticed from previous Moss blogs that we love citizen science. The Aussie Backyard Bird Count is a fantastic way to get your kids excited about science and research and a fun activity to do at home. During our lockdown time, the kids and I loved watching the birds in our grevilleas and hakeas while we ate breakfast. Some toddlers know dinosaur facts – this three-year-old knows his crimson from his eastern rosellas (with two scientists for parents, this shouldn’t be surprising). The exception to this being the time old mate Maggie held me hostage under the clothesline. The husband found that one HILARIOUS.
As well as helping ecologists track large-scale biodiversity trends like these, it also gives people the chance to connect with their natural environment and gain a greater appreciation of our unique fauna.
How To Get Involved?
To get involved all you need is 20 minutes, your favourite outdoor space (this doesn’t have to be your actual backyard), and some keen eyesight. You don’t need fancy binoculars or any special equipment (although no judgement if you have those and want to use them). You can bird count in suburbia, in regional areas, and on apartment balconies. There are no limits! Well, apart from the twenty-minute time limit. But you can do it again if that’s not enough for you.
Choosing native plants when you are planning your gardens and pots is a fantastic way to help encourage birds in to your area. As a bonus, these plants are well suited to the climatic conditions faced in Australia, and beautiful to boot!
The twenty-minute time frame helps researchers to keep results standardised. If you want to go for longer, just submit a consecutive twenty-minute count. Even if you don’t see any birds, this is still helpful information to the researchers – it’s definitely still valuable to submit a zero count.
There is no wrong or bad time of day to count birds. However, most birds are more active at dawn and dusk, so you can increase your chances of seeing something cool by doing your count then. Trick question! All birds are cool. You can count as many or as few times as you like over the week.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a novice like me, or an expert like Moss ecologists Mel and Dasuni. You can record what you can identify, and use the “find a bird” function on the app or the website to look up the rest. The find a bird function uses easy to find features like bird size, colour and shape – you don’t need any fancy ornithological knowledge I promise. As a bonus, the website gives live data on what your neighbours are recording too.
The FAQ section of the Aussie Bird Count website is very comprehensive, and will likely answer any questions that you might have about what to do if you can’t identify something, think you’ve made a mistake, or need any other help.
If you feel a little disheartened by what’s being recorded in your area, there is no need to despair! Choosing native plants when you are planning your gardens and pots is a fantastic way to help encourage birds in to your area. As a bonus, these plants are well suited to the climatic conditions faced in Australia, and beautiful to boot!
In our yard here in Tamworth we find that the fairy wrens love the hakeas, the rosellas love the grevilleas, and the magpies hate everyone equally. Kidding! We also get double-barred finches and red-rumped parrots eating our grass seeds. Many of these species can be grown in pots on balconies as well as in gardens, so apartment dwellers are absolutely not excluded from this.
How To Attract More Birds To Your Garden
In addition to plants to feed from and hide in, birds need access to clean water. This should be off the ground, so a bird bath is perfect. You can get a bird bath from bunnings or your favourite local nursery, or feel free to DIY one with an old unused dish at home. Pick something that is wide and not too deep – less than 10cm is ideal. Pop some rocks at the bottom if its on the deeper side and make sure the top is secured to the base to avoid other wildlife or kids pulling the top off onto themselves.
As a bonus, rocks at the surface provide a landing pad for native bees looking for a drink. You can even get bird baths that mount on a railing like this one, perfect for balconies! Remember that you’ll want to be able to fill it easily, and be able to clean it out regularly. We found that the bird bath in our garden got more use when it was consistently kept full, as a reliable water source.
Another great option if you have a suitable tree in your yard is to install nest boxes. Nest boxes can be bought, or built yourself following one of the many instructions available online. We finally got nesting rosellas in our nest box that we put up 5 years ago! So be patient.
Many of our native birds, including rosellas and cockatoos, need hollows for nesting. However, did you know that Australia is the only continent other than Antarctica that doesn’t have woodpecker birds? In other countries these birds create hollows in trees. In Australia, hollows take many years to form in mature trees. Current rates of tree removal, especially in urban areas, mean that these habitat trees are being lost faster than they are being replaced. The biggest hollows are, naturally found in the biggest trees – these are often over 220 years old!
A highlight last year (October 2020) was this family of Willy Wag Tails nesting in one of our gum trees. The nest was only a metre or so off the ground, so we put an old puppy fence around the base of the tree to keep our dogs away. To protect all of our native wildlife, not just birds, cats should always be kept inside.
So go forth and count! Make yourself a cuppa, find a shady spot, and get started. You never know – you might find you love it and want to keep going.