Survey Results

Here you can read summaries of survey data from the past few years in the links and text below


June 2017 - Aussie icons in black, white and grey

Creating bird-friendly spaces and encouraging small native birds back into our urban areas is an important part of the Birds in Backyards program. While we’d all love to see those elusive little birds make a reappearance, what’s been happening with our more common and beloved garden friends? Magpie-larks (our feature bird), Willie Wagtails, Australian Magpies and Grey Butcherbirds are all familiar black, white and grey Aussie birds that have adapted well to our urban lifestyle. Let’s explore what your surveys have revealed and what we can do to keep these common birds common.

Magpie-larks, also known as peewees, peewits or mudlarks, are distinct little black-and-white birds found throughout Australia except in Tasmania and our driest deserts. These birds like to forage across open areas and are common in gardens both where there is minimal shrub coverage and where shrub cover is more than 50 per cent. This may seem confusing, but it suggests that birds use gardens for different purposes, with high-cover sites selected for roosting and safety, and birds moving out across the urban landscape to forage in more open gardens. They are more likely to be found in areas with native trees than no trees at all, and can occur in backyards quite far from remnant bushland. Magpie-larks appear much more able to cope with heavily modified, urban environments than many of our other small, native birds.

Willie Wagtails are the largest and most-well known fantails in Australia. Their insect-catching antics and distinctive—not to mention amusing—tail wagging is a joy to watch. These birds are common throughout mainland Australia, from open urban areas to rural farmland, having adapted well to highly modified landscapes and they are not shy of people. Willie Wagtails are active feeders, and can be seen darting around lawns as they hunt for insects on the ground or catch them in the air. Your surveys have revealed that they show a clear preference for gardens with native plants and don’t like areas with a lot of hard surface coverage.

You can’t get much more iconic black and white than an Australian Magpie! One of our most highly adaptable, widespread and successful urban species, these birds are happy with almost any garden type — as long as there’s a good mix of trees, shrubs and open lawn in the neighbourhood. They especially like open spaces where they can hunt for prey (and attack an unsuspecting dog or cyclist during the territorial breeding season), but are more likely to occur where there are tall trees in which to perch and watch their surroundings.

Grey Butcherbirds contribute to the orchestra of our woodlands and suburbs with their lovely lilting song that can be heard from the Wet Tropics in North Queensland, throughout eastern and southern Australia, including Tasmania, to west to Western Australia, as far north as the Pilbara. With its strong, hooked beak and fierce stare, the Grey Butcherbird is not a bird to be messed with. These birds were most common in gardens where there were mostly native plants and a good mix of trees, shrubs, ground cover and open lawn. There was a very strong probability of occurrence where there was high coverage of small native plants, including ground covers. This is likely because these small plants provide a great source of their favoured foods, such as lizards and insects.

How can you help these iconic Aussie birds?

A garden that attracts the prey and favoured small creatures is a great way to appeal to these black-and-white (and grey) birds. For Australian Magpies and Grey Butcherbirds, think about planting small shrubs, and using mulch, rocks and logs to provide hiding places for other birds, lizards and frogs. Tall trees give these birds open perching spots to search for prey which they can pounce on. Magpie-larks and Willie Wagtails are sure to appreciate a small patch of grass within your lush native plantings where they can hunt for insects and other tiny critters. Don’t forget that shrubbery and trees that attract the insects they love can also help bring in these charismatic little birds and are also important roosting and nesting places.

And remember, the recommendations we make for helping birds in your gardens come from the reports you send in, so make sure you sign up to Birdata and keep sending in your Backyard Bird Surveys.


February 2017 - Small urban birds

We talk a lot about small birds, so let’s focus on four of our favourite small birds: Eastern Spinebills, New Holland Honeyeaters, Superb Fairy-wrens and Silvereyes. We know that fairy-wrens like hopping on open lawns, then retreating to the safety of native shrubs, honeyeaters need flowering plants and trees, and all of them need habitat that supports the insects they like to eat. But what have we learned from the past 10 years of backyard bird surveys?

Eastern Spinebills are gorgeous little honeyeaters with a long and slender, down-curved beak . They use their bill to obtain nectar from a wide variety of plants, and usually perch or hover while feeding on flowers, or fly energetically after insects. Your backyard bird surveys have shown that they prefer gardens that are well vegetated with shrubs (and very little lawn), where they can feed and retreat to for safety.

New Holland Honeyeaters are mostly black and white, with patches of yellow on the wings and tail. Ten years of your surveys have told us that — like the Eastern Spinebill — these inquisitive little birds prefer a garden that is mostly vegetated with native plants (and with very little lawn). New Holland Honeyeaters are happy with a mix of native and exotic trees, but the chance of having one visit your garden declines when the tree cover is more than 50%. These birds are usually seen in lower areas of shrubs as they busily dart from flower to flower in search of high energy nectar to feed on. They also eat fruit and insects.

Superb Fairy-wrens are truly superb to look at. Males are brightly coloured with a blue-and black-head and throat, and a grey-white belly. Several brown females and young birds live together in small social groups with a dominant male. They are common in urban parks and gardens. Superb Fairy-wrens require open spaces for foraging, and so are most likely to occur in gardens 25–50% lawn coverage, or even more. They are also present in gardens with many shrubs, with a preference for dense and low shrub cover, which provides a safe place to retreat to and an alternative to the open ground for feeding on insects.

Silvereyes are lovely, small, olive-green and grey birds that occur in almost any wooded habitat, especially urban parks and gardens, as well as orchards, and. Birds are seen singly or in pairs during the breeding season, but during winter they’re often also heard trilling in a mixed flock of feeding birds in shrubs or high in the canopy during winter. Survey results show a clear preference for gardens with little lawn coverage and lots of shrubs. Although they don’t seem to show a preference for native or exotic trees, you should consider plants that provide habitat for their insect prey, as well as fruit and nectar.

What should you plant to attract some of these small birds to your garden?

Grevilleas are good for attracting Eastern Spinebills and New Holland Honeyeaters, but steer clear of the large hybrids that can attract bigger, pushy birds like Noisy Miners and Rainbow Lorikeets; instead, look for the beautiful range of smaller flowering grevilleas. Grevilleas with small, red, pink or even grey spider flowers are perfect for little beaks to use. Other nectar-producing plants like correas, epacrids and banksias are also great for honeyeaters.

To attract Superb Fairy-wrens, think about creating density in your garden by planting native shrubs and small trees, such as Hakea, Westringia, Melaleuca, Kunzea and Busaria. Your local council will have a list of species that are native to your area and should grow well. Don’t forget to add grasses like Lomandra and vines such as the Wonga Wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana) to increase the protective layer in your garden.


December 2016 - Birdy relationships

Earlier we talked about the relationships between bird species and the habitat features they like. However we have also found some interesting statistically significant relationships between some of our most common bird species and a whole range of less common birds – some good, some not so good!


Gardens with Noisy Miners were less likely to have some other native birds in them including small birds like the Superb Fairy-wren, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-plumed Honeyeater and Double-barred Finch, but also Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos. It is possible that this was the result of a direct interaction (so Noisy Miners chasing away other birds, as they are often observed doing) but it could, in some cases, also be due to these birds liking different types of gardens (with Noisy Miners liking tall trees and open lawn)


On the other hand, the Common or Indian Myna had a mixed relationship with other birds. They had a negative relationship with only three other species that we could detect – the Common Bronzewing, Brown Thornbill and Double-barred Finch. However they had a positive relationship with other ground-foraging birds like Willie Wagtails and Australian Magpies. A really interesting result and something that warrants more investigation! Keep sending us sightings to the Backyard Bird surveys so we can explore these relationships.


A reminder too – work is underway to move our Backyard Bird surveys on to the fantastic new BirdLife Conservation Portal. You can get a head start by registering on the site so you are ready to go when the portal is. Please remember to use the same email address as you have for Birds in Backyards so we can sync up your records.



October 2016 - What do your plants attract?

Whilst the Aussie Backyard Bird Count takes a yearly snapshot of the birds that live where we live. Our Backyard Bird Surveys are available year round and take a closer look at our gardens, what features our birds are attracted to and the relationships between different bird species. So what are your surveys telling us about what sort of plants we should use in our gardens?


Most native species were more commonly seen in gardens with mostly native plants including native trees (this included species like Eastern Spinebills, Superb Fairy-wrens and Crimson Rosellas). For many of these birds no trees are preferable to the presence or dominance of exotic tree types. Introduced birds such as House Sparrows and Common Myna show a preference to sites with mostly exotic tree types, however the introduced Spotted Dove seems to prefer a native tree canopy. Spotted Doves and Common Mynas were also likely to be found in gardens with no trees at all. These are birds that like being on the ground or hanging around our houses.


So the old adage that native birds prefer native plants is definitely showing through here - so even by getting some sort of native plant of tree in the ground you are helping many native birds, whilst creating a garden that is less attractive to introduced ones - it's a win/win! Check out your local nurseries and find some that are locally native to your region.



August 2016 - Honeyeaters

The data you send in to us from the Backyard Bird surveys is invaluable. We are learning so much about what many of our native birds are looking for in our backyards. Lets have a look at another suite of species – some honeyeaters:


Noisy Miners

  • Many of you know these birds well. They are extremely territorial and do not like sharing their space with any other birds. They are thought to be one part of the reason for the decline of small native birds like spinebills and wrens.
  • The characteristics of an individual garden probably gets swamped in a Noisy Miner territory (because they occupy so many) and it is likely that instead, it is the composition of a number of gardens that influences them, but…
  • They were statistically less common in gardens with more than 50% of shrubs – so get planting!
  • You found them more often in gardens with a lot of trees (more than 50%) – so if you have a great tree canopy, it becomes even more important to have that dense shrubby understory underneath
  • They were more often found in gardens where there were not dogs, but more common in gardens with aviary birds
  • Gardens were bread was provided daily, or meat was provided daily or infrequently (monthly) had Noisy Miners more often.


Little Wattlebirds

  • Definitely more common in native gardens or those with an equal mix of native and exotic plants
  • Showed a clear preference for lots of native shrubs, but less than 50% tree cover
  • They were twice as common in gardens with a dog that without!


Brown Honeyeaters

  • These little birds became less common the further gardens were away from bushland
  • Definitely preferred gardens with lots of small plants in them but strangely enough, also either lots of trees or none at all! It is likely that in the absence of trees they were looking for other dense layers of vegetation.


Some of these results may seem a bit confusing, but there are some clear messages. Shrubs are so important for so many of our birds – both to encourage some, and discourage others. Likewise, being close to, or connected to a patch of bush is vital. Birds move around the landscape using our gardens as stepping stones – so by adding your bit, especially if you are further away from bushland, is so important.


Your favourite honeyeater might not have been mentioned – these were only the birds that showed us statistically significant results. So it might be that either 1. They don’t have any preferences in gardens or 2. We don’t have enough data on them yet.


So keep sending us through your surveys – as you can see, they are giving us some really important information but the more we get the more we are learn.

Don’t forget, once we move to the new BirdLife Conservation Portal, you will need a new log in to submit surveys. You can get prepared by setting up this log in now. Visit Birdata here.



June 2016 - What do parrots prefer?

We’ve been doing some digging into the past 10 years of Backyard Bird surveys and are uncovering some great information about the types of gardens that attract certain bird species using statistical analyses – all based on the surveys you send us. Here are some findings for just a few of the parrots:


Eastern Rosella’s preferred:

  • Gardens that were between 50m to 5km away from bushland rather than those right next to or greater than 5km away.
  • They were most common in gardens with between 25-50% shrubs but least common in gardens with more than 50% shrubs.
  • A lot of lawn (>50%) rather than less lawn.
  • The composition of the plants and trees (native or exotic) didn’t matter.
  • Strangely, they were more common in gardens with dogs and pet birds! This doesn’t necessarily mean that these animals are attracting them per se, but some feature related to the pets might be creating a good habitat for the rosella’s.


Rainbow Lorikeets were in gardens that:

  • Either had no trees at all, mostly native or an equal mix of natives and exotics. They were much less common in gardens with mostly exotic tree species.
  • Had a lot of small plants but also more than 25% hard surfaces.
  • Unsurprisingly they preferred gardens in which sugar (nectar/honey) was provided daily or weekly.


Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos preferred:

  • Gardens that were closer to bushland. They were least likely in gardens between 2km and 5km from bush.
  • Gardens that didn’t have less than 25% shrubs.
  • Water only being provided infrequently (weekly or monthly) or not at all.


Stay tuned for more results as we work through habitat preferences for many more species. Please keep sending through your data. One thing that is clear is that regular surveys really help! So any time you can send us in a quick survey we would really appreciate it.



December 2015 - A summary of 10 years of surveys


Whilst the Aussie Backyard Bird Count is a one-off event each year, we do have our Backyard Bird surveys ongoing. This year saw a temporary change to the surveys and next year we will be moving them to the fantastic BirdLife Australia Conservation Portal (I will let you all know when that happens). So lets take a look at the findings from 2015…

We have had 1177 surveys submitted to us from around the country (from January till the 7th of December). Thank you for those who did a 20 min count, a weekly tally or told us what they have seen throughout the year. Here are a few highlights:


The 20 min surveys are the most popular surveys submitted (81%)


There were an average of:

  • 8 species seen in a 20 min survey

  • 27 species seen in a weekly tally and

  • 31 species seen in a yearly count

The maximum number of species recorded was a huge 74 during a week list!

Most surveys:

  • Were submitted from NSW

  • Were between 50m and 2km of a patch of bush land (61% of surveys)

  • Had an equal mix of native and exotic plants (56%) but a mostly native tree canopy (81%)

  • Had only none or only small amount of hard surfaces (94%), lawn (50%) and small plants (82%)(totaling less than 25% cover of each)

  • Had a large proportion (45%) of shrub cover (classified as 50% cover) but 30% of surveys were in areas with no shrub cover at all.

  • Had some tree cover (only 8% had no trees), with most having a few to some trees present (78%) (classified as <25% to 50% tree cover).

  • Provided water daily for birds (66%)


Check out below for the top 20 birds recorded this year. It is quite a bit different to the Aussie Backyard Bird Count!


% surveys seen

Australian Magpie



Rainbow Lorikeet



Red Wattlebird



Grey Butcherbird



Pied Currawong



Noisy Miner






Brown Honeyeater



Willie Wagtail



Crested Pigeon



Laughing Kookaburra



Sulphur-crested Cockatoo



Australian Raven



Spotted Dove*



Satin Bowerbird



New Holland Honeyeater



Superb Fairy-wren



Olive-backed Sunbird



Australian King Parrot



Eastern Rosella




Most birds (particularly those most commonly seen) are your typical big, bossy urban birds, but it is great to see smaller birds like the Brown Honeyeater and Willie Wagtail showing up in almost 1 in 4 surveys and only one introduced bird (the Spotted Dove) making an appearance in the top 20.


Lets get planting and get some of the smaller native species climbing the ranks and appearing more commonly in our Backyard Bird surveys in 2016!

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