What is Birdata?

Monday, 23 October 2023

  • Estimated reading time 5min

Do you wish the fun of the Aussie Bird Count could go on all year? It can—with Birdata!

Join thousands of Australians who submit bird surveys through Birdata, and help tell the story of Australia’s birds. 

Birdata is BirdLife Australia’s national bird monitoring program. It is a digital repository of data about Australian birds spanning over half a century, with over 24 million bird sightings. It tells us where our birds are living, and how their populations have changed over time. 

The information in Birdata is used in publications, legislation and academic research throughout Australia, and data is shared every week with community groups, corporations, universities and government bodies to give Australia’s birds the best possible future. 

To join Australia’s biggest citizen science network and help tell the story of our birds, download the Birdata app and get counting! 

The birth of Birdata 

Before Birdata was created in 2005, there were two major projects that collected information on our birds through manual surveys. The first Atlas of Australian Birds was the first project to assess the bird fauna of an entire continent. This ambitious project: 

  • ran from 1977 to 1981, with the historic more than 3,000 Atlassers 
  • Comprised 90,000 surveys and 2.7 million sightings 
  • Was published as the Atlas of Australian Birds in 1984 

Nearly twenty years later, a second project was launched to update this information. The ‘New Atlas’: 

  • ran from 1998 to 2002 
  • used GPS technology  
  • Involved more than 7,000 people and nearly 5 million sightings 

The New Atlas of Australian Birds was a huge success—so huge that, when the project wrapped up, Atlassers were desperate to keep counting. And count they did. More than three years after the New Atlas had been published, surveys were still streaming in from all corners of the country. The need for an online platform had never been greater, and the Birdata website went live in August 2005, finally putting the power of data entry into the hands of volunteers.  

Now with a phone app, submitting bird surveys to Birdata has never been easier. 

How does Birdata help our birds? 

The hard work of citizen scientists has provided an invaluable contribution to such important publications as the State of Australia’s Birds, the 2020 Action Plan for Australian Birds, and the volunteer-led State of Tasmania’s Birds. 

Analysis of Birdata surveys has also driven the uplisting of several threatened species across Australia—the conservation statuses for birds as varied as the Australasian Bittern, Mallee Emu-wren and Australian Painted Snipe are “heavily informed” by the information collected by Birdata volunteers.  

But it’s not just the rare and threatened birds that are helped by Birdata. Our Urban Birds Program has been running popular Birds in Backyards (BIBY) surveys for years through Birdata, and one scientist has recently used this impressive dataset to track the fates of our most familiar feathered friends. 

Dr Carly Campbell’s research unearthed some surprising—and concerning—trends.  

  • some of our most cherished backyard birds, such as Australian Ringnecks and Magpie-larks in Perth and kookaburras, rosellas and Willie Wagtails in the eastern states, have declined significantly in the past five decades.  
  • Reports of Noisy Miners, Pied Currawongs and Rainbow Lorikeets (successful ‘urban exploiters’) have exploded since the 1960s. All three species are implicated directly in the decline of small birds in urban areas.  
  • some very common introduced species, such as Common Blackbirds and House Sparrows, have experienced a gradual decline—which may also be linked to the rise of urban exploiters. 

Citizen science is a great way for people to feel more in touch with nature… it is also incredibly valuable for scientists to access huge amounts of data that would otherwise be impossible to collect”. —Dr Carly Campbell

Birdata is also used to set up new monitoring projects throughout Australia. One of the most exciting new projects comes from the Wet Tropics, where Ceri Pearce and Dr Amanda Freeman (BirdLife Northern Queensland members) are spearheading an investigation into the futures of the region’s endemic birds, including high-elevation species like the Fernwren and Golden Bowerbird. Climate change is putting pressure on these birds to seek higher altitudes, and their future is uncertain. 

Records from the region are very patchy across the region, making it hard to understand the true requirements of these threatened birds. Pearce and Freeman have established the Birds with Altitude project to address the data gap in the chronically under-surveyed Wooroonooran National Park, a key area for these birds. Already, there has been a major uptick in Birdata surveys shared from this region. 

What do volunteers get out of Birdata? 

For many volunteers, submitting Birdata surveys is a way to do what they love doing—watching birds—while contributing to their protection. “We all love birds, that’s a given. Engaging in citizen science takes that love to the next level.” 

For Nichole Sullivan, Birdata was a way to continue the fun of the Aussie Bird Count once the week of the count was over. She has been submitting 20-minute Birdata surveys from her Pilbara garden since her first Aussie Bird Count, and says “It has really deepened my enjoyment of birds. And they are so fun to watch with their antics.”  

The challenge of completing a full survey has also refined Nichole’s identification skills, given her a keener ear for birdsong, and fostered an awareness of the flight behaviours of species that pass overhead. This deeper awareness of the birds around her recently paid off, when Nichole spotted a Black-shouldered Kite drifting over her property, the first she’s seen in the region in 16 years. 

While the thrill of identifying an unfamiliar bird is undeniable, Nichole’s main driver for using Birdata is not a sense of personal achievement, but the welfare of the birds she’s been enamoured by since her childhood. It’s the fact she “may be helping birds, and by extension, the environment” every time she hits ‘Submit’ that keeps her coming back for more.  

If you want to get involved, there’s no better time than now—making a tangible contribution to science is as easy as downloading the Birdata app and taking 20 minutes outside to connect with the environment around you. And if you’ve come to Birdata after taking part in the Aussie Bird Count, you will now be able to view your Aussie Bird Count surveys in Birdata on the Birdata ‘Explore’ page—from this year or last. With your help, our birds are in good hands.   

To join Australia’s biggest citizen science network and help tell the story of our birds, download the Birdata app and get counting!