Exploring and recording data

A lot of birders and researchers use two main web sites to record bird information. Birdata is maintained by Birdlife Australia and Ebird is maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA. This has allowed the development of very detailed datasets of bird distribution, breeding, populations changes, the impact of changes to the environment, the impact of fire and such like. Birders also use them to share information about the location of rare and unusual species and of course to maintain records of their birding.

For beginners or those interested in finding a particular species these resources provide excellent information about current locations of individual species.

The databases can be accessed by anyone and are free. They can be accessed via websites and also via smartphone Apps.

http://birdata.birdlife.org.au

http://ebird.com

If you want to find out more about the birds of the area both sites provide up-to-date information. You can use them without registering for an account, but it is a good idea to register so that you can contribute your own bird lists. Both sites have their strengths and weaknesses – see the book for a discussion of this.

Note: Search results for a particular species will vary between these two sites as most people use only one site to record their data. However, a lot of my older eBird records have now been loaded into Birdata. Still – it is best to check both to be sure. The examples below have specified a date range of 2013-2018 to limit searches to the more recent records.

You can adjust these settings to suit. For example, some birds are migratory and will only be found in certain months. A good example is the Flame Robin which visits this area in Autumn-Winter. Other birds, such as many of the cuckoos, are summer visitors. It always pays to check sites in advance if you are looking for a particular species.

eBird  –  ebird.com

Find a particular site
Explore –> Hotspots –> Type in search term –> View details

Most of the walks in the book are in eBird along with a lot of other sites.
These lists give you an idea of what has been seen, how often and dates. Useful to help you plan a visit.

Explore a region:
Explore –> Explore a Region –> try: Victoria, Australia –>

This gives you all checklists. Click on the map in the top right corner and drill down (double click on map or click + button) to any area you are interested in until you see individual birding reports that appear as coloured markers. Click on a marker to get more information.

For individual species:
Explore –> Species Maps –> enter species –> drill down to local area

The map below shows the sites for Speckled Warbler – 2013-2018 in this area. You can click on a site to get the full list

Birdata  – birdata.birdlife.org.au

Explore a region:
Live Data Map on front page –> drill down by double-clicking

Find a species:

Explore –> Select species –> select data range –>  drill down by double-clicking the map or use the + key to zoom down to the local area where you will see lots of dots representing survey points. The map below shows a search for Hooded Robin in this region.

Entering data allows you to contribute to the collection of useful information. And for a beginner they are great learning tools as they provide a check on likely species.

Gardens and birds

Roaming out in the bush does provide lots of fun when looking for birds, but in reality you can observe many species at home if you make some adjustments to your surroundings to provide suitable resources preferred by a range of birds. Some improvements such as extra vegetation takes time, but other changes such as water points and nest boxes can be added quickly.

Rufous Whistler having a good splash on a hot day – I love the way you can see the pink tongue of the bird as he cools off.

When aiming to attract birds to your garden the main things to remember are:

• Water is essential
• Birds will utilize all plants – native and others
• Importance of cover cannot be over-emphasized
• Nesting sites – consider adding some nest boxes

All the photos for this article have been taken in our garden – I have carefully located watering sites close to windows so that the house is really my bird hide. As I sit at my desk writing this I am watching a Crimson Rosella splashing in the water – very distracting when work needs to be done! In time, with a little patience you will see quite a range of birds, even if you live in an urban area. Birds are not fussy as long as you provide suitable resources that they need.


One of the ratbags of the area – a Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Although native plant species are often recommended, in reality birds will utilize a range of introduced species. In our garden the Eastern Spinebills love the Correas, but also spend a lot of time on Salvias and even the Tree Lucerne in flowering season. Silvereyes can often be seen around my fruit trees as well as foraging for insects amongst the roses. The neighbors’ butterfly bush that hangs over our fence attracts a lot of insects as well as a range of honeyeaters.


The closest we have to the flight of a humming bird – the Eastern Spinebill hovering as it takes nectar from a Salvia

Although it may be controversial to the purists, I prefer a mixed garden. In fact, some native gardens with a preponderance of heavy nectar plants can become over-run with aggressive species such as the Red Wattlebird that tends to drive smaller species away. Besides, I like to grow my own food, as well as bird food, so I will never have a purely native garden.


The Red-browed Finch is common in our garden and is often to be seen in groups of a dozen or more foraging on the ground in search of seeds

Feeding birds

On the vexed question of feeding birds there is a lot of controversy. Some take the hard line of “never”, which I feel will only alienate people. If you have ever visited RSPB reserves in the UK you will see a lot of bird feeders – in fact it is very common for people to feed birds in their gardens. In my view, it is important to have people interacting with wildlife and the home garden is a great place to start. We need to encourage engagement, not put people off with rigid rules.

Clearly there are bad practices and disease risks but on balance, limited provision of resources can be a plus for both people and the birds. If you are interested in recent research on supplementary feeding of Australian birds have a look at the work of Professor Daryl Jones of Griffith University. See:

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/sites/www.birdsinbackyards.net/files/page/attachments/doc_13_guidelines_review.pdf

In summary, Daryl Jones recommends:

Ensure that the feeding station is cleaned daily and is located out of reach of potential predators such as cats.

• Provide high quality food. Do not provide bread, fatty meat or honey and water mixes. Instead use nectar mixes, good quality seed or meat with a low fat content.
• Vary the type of food provided and when it is available. Alternate between
nectar mixes and seed for example. Set it out at different times and not every day.
• Monitor the types of birds using the feeder. If introduced birds are becoming more common or populations that are visiting the feeder are becoming very large, then take a break from feeding for a while and then recommence with a different food type.
• Provide a bird bath

The single best thing to encourage birds is a supply of water. A simple flat, shallow bowl kept topped-up with fresh water will attract a range of birds. Make sure that the water bowls are sited near some cover, as smaller birds are often reluctant to approach open water sites – they prefer places where they can quickly dive back into cover. The image below ​shows a Rufous Whistler and a White-naped Honeyeater sharing the same bowl. It is interesting to watch different species sharing the same water source at times, particularly in hot weather.


Rufous Whistler and White-naped Honeyeater share the water bowl

Striated Pardalote

The Striated Pardalote breeds regularly in our garden – this year inhabiting a hollow in the wall. I must get some proper pardalote-friendly nesting sites ready for next season.


The Common Bronzewing with its trademark underwing pattern in full view

These birds prefer a deeper water source than the shallow bowls frequented by our honeyeaters and thornbills. They seem to like foaraging beneath our fruit trees and a group of Tree Lucerne for the seeds.


A tiny Spotted Pardalote

Has nested beneath my raised vegetable garden beds, digging out quite a deep tunnel for the nest.

The Silvereye is one of the more common birds in our garden, often seen in small flocks of a dozen or so foraging amongst the fruit trees, roses or anywhere else for that matter.

All of these birds can be seen in our garden near the centre of town – you don’t need to be out in the bush to enjoy the birds!