Questions & answers
Why do the survey in winter?
Winter is when some of our native forest birds come to our gardens, looking for food and shelter. Birds such as tui, bellbirds, silvereyes, fantails, and grey warblers. In some places, even kaka and kereru. From this point of view, winter is probably the best time of year for watching birds.
Why count for 1 hour only?
We want everybody to count for the same length time. One hour was chosen as a length of time that many people can manage. We’d rather have more people watch for 1 hour than fewer people watch for a longer time. In 1 hour you won’t record all the species or all the birds that visit your particular garden, but if enough people do the survey we will get a good picture of the average numbers of birds of all species that visit the average garden. In other words, birds that are not in your garden will be in somebody else’s garden. So please encourage your neighbours to do the survey as well!
What about the weather?
Don’t worry about the weather. It will vary between years and also in different parts of the country – but it's so random it won’t affect the results in the long term.
What if I see fewer birds than usual?
You may see fewer birds than usual during your hour, but others will see more than usual – so you balance each other out.
What if I can’t identify some of the birds I see?
It doesn’t matter if you can’t identify all the birds you see. However, make a note of their appearance and behaviour and try to identify them from books or the Web. Click here for help with some bird identification resources. Most people will probably know the very common birds like blackbirds, song thrushes, and house sparrows. A few minutes spent looking through a bird book or bird website will help you identify more species, such as chaffinch, goldfinch, and greenfinch. Be aware that sometimes the sexes look different (e.g. male and female blackbirds, house sparrows, and chaffinches look different). Note that there are two types of birds called ‘sparrow’ – the house sparrow and the hedge sparrow (or dunnock). The house sparrow is much more common, occurs in groups or flocks and close to houses, while the hedge sparrow tends to occur singly or in pairs, is more secretive, and generally keeps close to bushes and hedges. If after trying you still can’t identify the species, that's OK. You should describe the bird on the recording form and we might be able to identify it for you. Otherwise we will code it as unknown.
Should I be inside or outside?
It doesn’t matter. Inside is like being in a bird hide; the birds can’t see you and continue to behave naturally. If you are outside, you risk frightening birds away. You can sit inside near a window in the kitchen or living room, or at a desk near a window in the classroom (with a drink and something to eat if you like), and watch birds through the window. Or you can sit outside on the verandah or at a garden table. You don’t have to be able to see the whole garden or school ground, just part of it.
Does it matter whether or not I feed birds?
No, it doesn’t matter. But please tell us if you do feed birds, what you feed them, and if your survey area included the area where you feed them.
What time of day should I do the survey?
It doesn’t really matter. Birds are sometimes more active in the morning, so by doing your count then you may increase the number you see. However, you can do it at any time. It also doesn’t matter if different people do it at different times. If a large number of people take part we expect there will be a good spread of times throughout the day and that this will be similar from year to year.
Can I count birds I hear but don’t see?
Yes. But you don’t have to. Obviously you can only count birds you hear if you know their sounds. Remember it is the largest number you see and/or hear at one time that you count. It doesn’t matter if some people count birds heard and others don’t, so long as they do the same thing each year. It is the year-to-year changes in bird numbers that we’re interested in, not a comparison between different people’s gardens.
Can I record birds flying overhead?
Yes. But again you don’t have to. Do what you feel most comfortable doing. If you’re used to counting birds flying overhead, do so. If you’re not used to doing it, don’t. It doesn’t matter if people do different things, so long as they do the same thing each year. It is the year-to-year changes in bird numbers that we’re interested in, not a comparison between different people’s gardens.
If the birds are coming and going while I'm watching them, how do I count them?
Record only the highest number of individual birds of each species that you see together at any one time. For example, you might have seen blackbirds four times during the hour. First you might have seen 3 birds, then 2, then 3 again, and finally just 1. You’ll report 3 blackbirds because that was the greatest number you saw at any one time. Don’t add the numbers up, because you can only be certain that the most individual blackbirds you saw in your garden was 3.
How do I count birds that are in large flocks?
At this time of year you might see large flocks of silvereyes, goldfinches, or some other species. Estimate the number as best you can. For example, first count the birds in a small part of the flock. Then multiply that number by the number of parts of similar size needed to make up the entire flock.
I didn’t see many birds. Is it worth sending in the results?
Yes, definitely. It is the overall picture we are trying to obtain. Many factors will influence the number of birds you see – the weather, time of day, appearance of a cat, and so on. It may not be so interesting for you if you see only a few birds, but all results are valuable, low counts and high counts. We will add up all the counts from around New Zealand and publicise the results on the garden bird website, in the newspaper, and through various other outlets.
One of my pupils counted 26 blackbirds. Is this likely?
No! It is more likely to have been one blackbird visiting the garden 26 times during the hour. Encourage pupils to record the number that represents the most of each type of bird seen at one time.
Would you like a set of results from every child in the class?
No thank you, not if they are the same results. Thirty children all seeing the same blackbird doesn’t make 30 blackbirds! However, if each child does an individual survey at home, then we would love to receive their individual results.