Garden Bird Survey – Postcards from the Edge

Department of Conservation —  26/06/2020

New Zealand’s longest running citizen science Project, the Garden Bird Survey kicks off on the 27th June. It’s time to dig out your lucky bird-watching hat, pull on the woolly socks, grab a chair and a cuppa tea, and head into the garden to count birds.

This year’s Garden Bird Survey runs from 27 June to 5 July and birders across Aotearoa are hoping for the biggest turnout yet.

Our birds count.
📷: Manaaki Whenua

The results from last year’s Garden Bird Survey show positive signals for four native species. Increases in pīwakawaka / fantail, tūī and kererū have all occurred over the past ten years and accelerated in the past five years. Past data indicates a moderate decline in tauhou / silvereye is still apparent, yet has slowed nationally in the past five years to 2%. Retired researcher Eric Spurr, who started the survey 14 years ago, says the decline in tauhou / silvereye could be due to climate change raising the temperatures in gardens, meaning the birds are choosing to stay in the forest, where it’s cooler. Other survey results since 2009 show declines in counts of song thrush, goldfinch, starling and dunnock across Aotearoa. Combined information from surveys completed across Aotearoa New Zealand help to paint this picture of birds in our gardens – pretty important stuff!

Data is used in a variety of ways, including by regional councils, who use it to inform predator control and biodiversity programmes. Angela Brandt is a Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research Ecologist/Modeller with Ecosystems and Conservation. Her role in the survey is to coordinate and analyse the data. She explains, “We can see trends forming, and if needed, create alerts.”

In a quirky nod to today’s COVID-19 world, the science behind the count parallels the science behind the virus testing – data helps to develop a picture of the environment, so the more data, the better the big picture is. Data provides important puzzle pieces that researchers can then use to complete their research.

So the more people we get out in the gardens counting birds, the more we can understand not just our birds, but our whole environment.

The survey is easy to do. Choose a day between 27 June and 5 July when you have a free hour. Print off or download the tally sheet from the website ( and head into your garden. You could also chose a school garden, or a park.

Look and listen for birds for that hour and record the highest number of bird species you observe. Head back to the Garden Bird Survey website and submit your results.

Bird ID and tally sheet for the Garden Bird Survey – 27th June – 5th July 2020.
📷: Manaaki Whenua

Over the past years, garden bird survey counters have become very social, with The Garden Bird Survey Twitter, Facebook and Instragram pages becoming packed with gorgeous bird photos – like these below:

Photos taken by garden Bird Survey participants in previous years.
📷: Manaaki Whenua

Counting birds is also excellent for our well-being. People who do the Garden Bird Survey have repeatedly told the Garden Bird Survey team that they feel calm, refreshed, and entertained after taking part.

For Garden Bird Survey newbies who may need a little support on distinguishing their goldfinch from their touhou / silvereye, the Garden Bird Survey website has an extensive bird identification toolbox as well as support videos on how to complete the survey.

Bird identification poster to help identify birds in your garden.
📷: Manaaki Whenua

As well as completing the survey, there are lots of other fun activities for tamariki, including colouring-in pages, bird masks and a curious chocolate fish index. For teachers looking to include the garden bird survey into a wider inquiry on birds of New Zealand – check out the DOC – Manaaki Whenua education resource, Experiencing birds in your green space or the Kiwi Guardians – Toa Manu action medal.

Verran School students conducting bird survey.
📷: Shan Walker

So, what are you waiting for? Save the date and get ready to grab those lucky bird-watching socks, rug up and head into the garden and become part of our team of thousands of bird counters.

2 responses to Garden Bird Survey – Postcards from the Edge


    Seeing birds on your garden just makes everything magical. The sound of the birds, the buzzing of bees and etc. And they actually help you maintain your garden. These birds are every gardeners bestfriend as they eat insects and other pest that could potentially ruin your beautiful garden. If they eat some of your crops, just let them.
    Tanya North Shore

    pennie glassford 29/06/2020 at 1:48 pm

    I am excited to be able to particiapet and maybe contribute to making a positive difference to the lives of the birds as previously & currently, I myself have noticed a huge difference in shift/rotation of the community birds.
    Neighbours have chopped large trees out due to height maintenance affecting TUI mainly in the Karaka, Kowhai, & Kanuka then Robena & Gliditsia trees. FANTAILS in handfuls daily greet me at the kitchen window and sometimes they come flying so fast they crash/bang at the windows maybe insects attracting them?
    Minors I could count on 1 hand a week, WAX EYES have declined in the past 2 years as they would frequent my orange trumpet tube frgrant flowers & feed with the fantails, bees and monarchs occasionally wasps. However there have been 2 types of bees in my garden also plus an increase in variety of ladybirds.
    I have an abundance of earwigs in the garden and I do have JURASSIC WORMS & SLUGS maybe because I have a worm farm for the past 1 1/2yrs. Cocroaches are seldom as I have a yearly spray done! There is also the stink bug seasonally and the praying mantis 1 or 2 locusts as they declined this past year and as always the variety of ants.

    Fruit flys have been rampant this CITRUS SEASON and I have fed the birds on the lawn some although they prefer the apples and persimmon plus tomatoes and strawberries they dine on like a smorgasboard. Just for a treat this year since the TUIS have been coming out 7am, a handful of WILD BIRD SEED FROM BIN INN and some bread or leftover rice. The set of DUCKS from last summer who visited us daily from 6am 3pm or 6pm only visited once this AUtumn which is strange just daily visits for about 2 weeks & gaveup. These ducks would circle all around Lytton West announcing their arrival honking/quaking the odd time a 3rd one would join them but usuallly a male & female. A couple of times the female flew in on her own but they initially started out near the roadside picnicing on the grass until they found where they would get fed then they would attend our neighbours large gragae roof and face our way. They would poop on the driveway & on the car windows shatter poop on the side of the house but generally perch on the roof top for a couple of hours quacking in attendance SERVICE PLEASE!
    Thankfully this winter they have left me in peace as I would rather enjoy the TUI!

    Sadly the neighbours complained about our GLEDITSIA tree which was 20 yrs old and had formed an ugly umbrella shape getting tangled branches but the TUI had jumped fence from the neighbours opposite whom had chopped a couple of large trees down including a KOWHAI so through LOCKDOWN they were extremely active from 5am-6am and the LOCKDOWN i beleive brough a lot more birds out of existance as less traffic and less food/rubbish to feed on brought them to residences for food scraps & gardens. It was clear to me they had resorted to outer urban areas like they had noticed a change?

    Now after LOCKDOWN they are back to PRELOCKDOWN habits I assume. SEAGULLS would circulate flying in our community but not land. MONARCH BUTTERFLIES were so to abundant in Autumn surprisingly, sunbathing on my 20 yr old Lipptospermum Coppersheen Tree or they would drink & sunbathe on my Geisha Girl Shrub until that got a drastic haircut! Not much left in my garden now with height except my 20 yr old KARAKA tree to nest & mate in. Oh yes the other day, 2 TUIS WERE FLUTTERING AROUND IN MY KANUKA tree, very cheeky and flirty amongst themselves!