Read our FAQs for Swift Parrot Search for answers to commonly asked questions about survey methods, identification of birds, plant species and survey locations for surveyors.
On this page you will find answers to common questions that have been raised by birdwatchers and other naturalists about BirdLife Australia’s Swift Parrot Search, including survey methods, Swift Parrot identification and information about survey locations and plant species.
Short surveys of small areas allow us to cover more ground in the field. This is really important when searching for rare species with large distributions like Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters. Whilst there is a small chance you may miss some Swift Parrots in a five-minute survey, there is a higher chance they are actually just somewhere else. By all means, stay longer than 5 minutes if you think there may be swifties or regents there (e.g. the trees are in heavy flower and lots of birds are present), but please only record the birds you find during the 5-minute survey period on the official datasheet and in the “Swift Parrot Search” Birdata portal. This is really important to keep the data as standardised as possible. If you do find Swifties and Regents at a site only after the 5-minute period is completed, please still let us know. This 5-minute-50 metre radius survey method has been tested and refined over a number of years by ornithologists from BirdLife Australia and the Australian National University (ANU) at a range of high-priority Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot locations. It has also been used by ANU as part of targeted surveys for the Swift Parrot in Tasmania. Whilst it may seem a little strange at first, we are confident you will get used to it very quickly!
Fifty metres is not too far, particularly in woodlands. We anticipate that you should be able to detect swifties and most other birds by sight or sound while standing at the centrepoint of the 50-metre radius search area. That said if you feel the need to wander off centre to check a flowering tree on the edge of a site, or to confirm the ID of a bird – go for it! Note: In some situations, the centrepoint of a monitoring site is within public land, but the broader 50-metre radius search area extends into adjoining privately owned land. On these
occasions, you will not be able to walk across the whole 50-metre search area. But it should be generally OK to walk up to the public-private land boundary and look into the private land only. We are not expecting there to be sites where the owners would be upset by people looking into their private property, but the judgment and discretion of the birdwatcher should be used if there is a possibility of disturbing the landholder. It is important to remember that each completed individual survey is a sample from a particular time and location. The value of the information collected using this survey method is enhanced by an increased number of samples undertaken.
Yes, please do. We are still strongly encouraging all observations of Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters to be reported to us in the Woodland Birds team – as we will continue to maintain an annual database of sightings.
This includes observations that were made:
However, the new “Swift Parrot Search” portal in Birdata can only be used to record sightings made from designated monitoring points using the standard 5min-50m radius method. There are a range of other ways to let us know of your opportunistic sightings of a Swift Parrot or Regent Honeyeater outside of a designated monitoring point survey.
1. For Regent Honeyeaters, it is highly valuable for the conservation and protection of the
species that we are made aware of a confirmed or possible sighting as soon as possible.
The best way to do this is by using the toll-free hotline– 1800 621 056.
2. Alternatively, or as well, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the
details of your sighting of a Swift Parrot or Regent Honeyeater. Valuable information to
provide includes time, date, location, observers, number of birds, behaviour, presence of
suitable food resources, colour band locations and your phone contact details.
3. You can lodge your sighting into Birdata where you will select the survey type that
is appropriate for the situation in which you saw the target birds.
Often this will be an ‘incidental’ survey type, but could also be during a ‘20
minute 2-hectare search, a ‘500m area search’ or one of the other available general
survey type options.
This can be very frustrating when it occurs. However, to maintain the scientific rigor of the dataset, please do not add this observation retrospectively to the official 5-minute survey sightings results. Instead, lodge this pre-survey or post-survey sighting of a Swift Parrot as a separate Birdata survey using the ‘incidental’ survey option under the General Birdata Survey portal.
No, It is not essential that you record other bird species during a 5-minute ‘Swift Parrot Search’ survey – particularly if you think it will reduce your ability to detect any Swifties or Regents that may be present. However, if you can comfortably record other all bird species – and their counts – from within the 50-metre search area without a significant reduction in your ability to detect any Swifties or Regents, then please do so. If you cannot reasonably document all species within the 50-metre search area, then an option is to record all nectar-feeding bird species as a first priority. The nectar feeders (e.g. honeyeaters, wattlebirds, friarbirds, lorikeets) are closely aligned ecologically with Swifties and Regents, and therefore understanding their occurrence and distribution is more insightful than birds that do not feed on nectar and lerps (e.g., waterbirds, insectivores, birds of prey).
Yes. If you see Swift Parrots – or any other bird species – flying over or through the circular 50-metre radius search area during a 5-minute count, then it should be counted. The 50-metre radius for the search area only refers to the horizontal distance from the
centrepoint. The circular 50-metre radius search area can be considered to extend infinitely in a vertical direction (rather like the shape of a cylinder). Thus, Wedge-tailed Eagle circling high overhead should be recorded if it is considered to be directly above the search area
during at least some of the 5-minute search period (even if only for a few seconds). Similarly, a Swift Parrot or other bird flying low through the search area without stopping or perching should also be recorded.
Yes. If you can confidently identify the birds by their distinctive vocalisations alone (e.g. kookaburra), then you can record them as part of the survey – assuming that you are also confident that the call came from a bird that was situated within the 50-metre radius search
area. You will also need to estimate the number of birds present, based on the calls only – in which case it is better to underestimate the number of birds present rather than overestimate. If you hear Swift Parrots or Regent Honeyeaters, it is highly recommended that you attempt to track down the birds to get more detailed and accurate information – e.g., the number of birds, their behaviour and foraging activity, any coloured leg bands, etc. However, particularly for the Swift Parrot, there may be occasions where the birds are only seen flying rapidly through the site with no opportunity to gather detailed information before they have disappeared. In this latter case, the best estimate of bird numbers will be required
There is no permission for volunteer birdwatchers to enter private land as part of this project. As a volunteer participant, you are only able to enter areas of public land. If you walk onto private land, it may be considered trespassing by the landowner. Therefore, even if you see a Swift Parrot or Regent Honeyeater within a private property, do not enter the property – unless you have explicit permission from the owner beforehand. For every monitoring site, the centrepoint is located on public land. However, for a relatively small proportion of the sites, the broader 50-metre radius search area may encompass some of the adjoining private lands. When implementing the “Swift Parrot Search” survey method, it is expected that the birdwatcher will be standing at the centrepoint only, and will arrive and depart from this point via public land. However, if you do need to walk more broadly across the circular search area to confirm the identification of a bird or tree, then it should be generally ok to walk up to the public-private land boundary, and only look into the private land (from the public land side). We are not expecting there to be sites where the owners would be upset by people looking into their private property from the adjoining public land, but the judgement and discretion of the birdwatcher should be used if there is a possibility of disturbing the landholder.
No. The Birdata app is the reacommended approach for collecting and submitting your “Swift Parrot Search” sightings, but it is not essential. Datasheets can also be requested from your relevant regional coordinator or the BirdLife Australia Woodland Bird team. This datasheet has been designed to collect all of the same information as the app. From the information collected on the datasheet, you can then submit the survey results to the Birdata website. Alternatively, it is also acceptable for birdwatchers to submit their completed datasheets to us by post (to: Swift Parrot Monitoring, BirdLife Australia, Suite 2-05 Leicester St, Carlton, VIC 3053) or as scanned attachments in an email sent back to us at email@example.com). However, as we have limited time and resources for this project, our preference would be for birdwatchers to lodge their own sightings into Birdata if they are able.
No. At least in the short term, Birdata is the only app (and website) that has all the required data collection fields for the “Swift Parrot Search” monitoring program. There is also a paper-based datasheet option for those that are not able to use Birdata.
Yes, but…For opportunistic sightings of Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters, our preference is that tthese are lodged in Birdata. We consider that this will maximise the value of these observations to provide immediate conservation outcomes. For example, throughout the whole of Birdata, (a) you will be prompted to provide additional relevant information whenever you lodge a sighting of a Swift Parrot or Regent Honeyeater, and (b) specialist ornithologists are immediately notified whenever one of these species is lodged in Birdata.
It is also fine to lodge your sightings of these species and other species across multiple platforms (e.g., a birdwatcher lodges their sighting of a Swift Parrot flock in both their Birdata and eBird accounts). However, it is notable that the Regent Honeyeater is considered to be a ‘sensitive species‘ in Birdata, and therefore exact sighting locations are ‘hidden‘ from the general public to minimise the likelihood of disturbance to the bird. Therefore, it will show up in your personal results, and will only be viewable by you and others that have administrator rights to Birdata. BirdLife Australia Woodland Bird team members also regularly undertake a search for sightings of these two species that may have been lodged in eBird and BirdLine – and then add them to our annual mainland sightings database where appropriate. We undertake a limited review of opportunistic sightings lodged solely on Facebook, iNaturalist and other platforms. Therefore, it is recommended that any sightings lodged in these other platforms are also separately submitted into Birdata or a direct notification is sent to a Woodland Birds team member.
No, but….Like many woodland birds, Swift Parrots tend to be most active and vocal during the first few hours after dawn and in the final hour or so leading up to sunset. Accordingly, these are the times of the day when Swift Parrots tend to be most easily able to be detected by birdwatchers. Therefore, where possible, surveys should be undertaken at times of the day when the likelihood of detecting any birds is higher. NB: For obvious reasons, “Swift Parrot Search” surveys should only be undertaken between dawn to dusk. However, it should also be noted that Swift Parrots are very occasionally detected in flight between dusk to dawn (e.g., flying to or from roost sites, heard
calling overhead while on migration).
Yes. Our ability to detect birds diminishes as weather conditions become more ‘extreme‘. Partly this is due to the reduced ability of the birdwatcher‘s various senses (e.g., sight, hearing) to detect birds within the canopy of a tree or shrub during high winds and/or heavy rain. Increasing the level of difficulty, most birds are also less vocal and active during these conditions. As a result, in poor conditions, it is much more difficult to detect either the target species or other birds, that are present at a site. However, this also does not mean that you need to wait for perfect weather conditions to undertake surveys. Swift Parrots and other birds are usually still readily detectable during
light to moderate winds, and during rain that is light or intermittent. Given the birds are present on the mainland during the cooler months (approx. mid-March to mid-October), it is unlikely that extremely high temperatures will be an issue during surveys. Extreme cold weather does not necessarily reduce the activity of Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters. However, the birdwatcher must consider their own safety and well-being during these conditions (e.g., hypothermia and related health risks). The health and safety of the birdwatchers are more important than continuing surveys in adverse conditions.
The priority is for as many at the fixed points as possible to be visited during each of the biannual 6-week survey periods. However, surveys undertaken at other times of the year (i.e., at the fixed points using the recommended survey method) are far from wasted efforts. If “Swift Parrot Search” surveys are undertaken at times of the year when the Swift Parrot is typically on the mainland (approx. mid-May to mid-October), it is still providing us with useful information on the occurrence or absence of the species from a particular area and the flowering patterns. Surveys undertaken at these points at any time of the year (including when the Swift Parrot
is typically in Tasmania) still provide us with information on other woodland birds, whole-of-year flowering patterns and may still pick up a Regent Honeyeater or unexpected Swift Parrot. But, if you only have a limited capacity to contribute to the Swift Parrot Search surveys
during a year, our preference is that you pre-dominantly undertake these within one or both of the designated 6-week survey periods. The exact dates will change from year-to-year, but generally the Round 1 survey will be from the last week in April to the first week in June, and the Round 2 survey will be from mid-July to late August.
Yes. We recognise that birdwatchers across south-eastern mainland Australia use a variety of approaches to successfully detect the presence of Swift Parrots. This includes fixed route walks, 20-minute-2-hectare surveys, ad-hoc approaches, and driving slowly through forests and woodlands with the windows down while listening for the Swift Parrot’s distinctive calls. For some birdwatchers, these methods have been used consistently for many years at the same locations. If your preference is to continue using these methods to search for Swift Parrots, this is OK. The information collected will still be useful. Your sightings of Swift Parrots and other species can be added into Birdata as “General Birdata Survey” and there are other ways to let us know as well. However, they are unable to be added into the “Swift Parrot Search” portal in Birdata, as this has been specifically designed only for the 5 min-50 metre radius method at fixed monitoring sites. However, we would also encourage you to trial the new approach to monitoring too. Maybe it is possible for you to continue searching for the species both using your traditional approach and also some sites using the revised approach.
Yes. Our priority is to see that as many sites as possible are visited at least once during each survey period. However, if a site is visited more than once in a survey period, this only strengthens our dataset. The 5-minute count is a rapid sample of the birds present, and so an
increased number of samples leads to increased confidence in our conclusions. For example, you may have a particular site – or small cluster of sites – in your favourite local patch of bush. You can reasonably decide to undertake a survey of these once per week during the 6-week period. However, we do request that the same observer does not visit the same site more than one time per day.
Yes. It is fine for the same monitoring point to be visited on more than one occasion during the same survey period. Preferably there would not be two surveyed on the same day, but there is no problem if this occurs by chance.
No, but…We encourage you to record the flowering intensity of the tree and mistletoe species occurring within each site – which will often include a rating of “None” when no specimens within the search area are flowering at all. This information will be invaluable when we analyse the movements of Swifties, Regents, and other nectar feeders across space and time. However, if documenting flowering intensity goes beyond your comfort zone, then you can continue to undertake the “Swift Parrot Search” surveys without recording this information. Similarly, the flowering intensity information is intended as a rapid assessment. Once you‘ve got your eye in for the local eucalypt identification, it should not take more than 2-3 minutes to complete the flowering assessment at each site.
Once you have lodged the survey ‘location‘ details into Birdata, the tree and mistletoe known to occur at that particular site will be pre-loaded into the ‘details‘ page. This will greatly reduce the number of trees and mistletoe species that you need to choose from. Over time, user guides will be prepared for each cluster of sites within a locality.
These user guides will:
– Identify the tree and mistletoe species known to occur at each site, and whether they
are considered to be a dominant or minor component of the canopy.
– Have a guide to the identification of the tree and mistletoe species known to occur in
This information will also be made available in the Shared Site description for each
monitoring site. When BirdLife and ANU staff were first establishing these monitoring points, there were semi-regular occasions when it was not possible to accurately determine the identification of a tree species to species level. In these cases, the trees have been labelled using a broader category such as Gum sp., Ironbark sp., Box sp. and even Eucalyptus sp. These categories are more commonly used in peri-urban areas where the search area includes planted eucalypts that are not indigenous to the area.
Due to the widespread challenges in the identification of stringybark eucalypts – and their
typically low value for Swift Parrots – these have all been categorised as Stringybark sp. Even for experts, it can be difficult to quickly and accurately identify eucalypts if there are no fruits or distinctive leaves present (e.g., juvenile leaves are often a good characteristic to distinguish between similar species). In these cases, if you have two or more pre-loaded options to choose from, you may instead decide to add a new broader category with a flowering rating. Similarly, if you have skills in plant ID, add in the more accurate name if you know what it is. You can add this to the notes and/or as an additional plant species. The BirdLife ecologists will then make the changes to Birdata so that the appropriate species are listed for future surveys. Conversely, if there are no flowers at all within the search area for any species, you can immediately rate all of the pre-loaded tree and mistletoe options as “none” even if you are not able to identify all of them immediately.
For some species, there are only a small number of specimens within the circular 50m search area – and sometimes even only 1 specimen. These could be tricky to detect as part of a rapid assessment, especially if they are similar to other more common species. Similarly, it is possible that some trees or mistletoe that were present at the time of the site set-up have since died – or fallen down. (There is also a possibility of occasional misidentification of plants during the site setup). In these situations outlined above, it is fine to leave the flowering intensity for these trees and mistletoe species in the default setting (that is, “select intensity”). Conversely, if there are no flowers at all within the search area for any tree or mistletoe species, you can immediately rate all of the pre-loaded tree and mistletoe options as a flowering intensity of “None” – even if you are not able to find or identify all of them immediately.
When BirdLife and ANU staff were first establishing these monitoring points, there have been semi-regular occasions when it was not possible to accurately determine the identification of a tree species to species level. In these cases, the trees have been labelled using a broader category such as Gum sp., Ironbark sp., Box sp. and even Eucalyptus sp. These categories are more commonly used in peri-urban areas where the search area includes planted eucalypts that are not indigenous to the area. If you come across these examples, and you are able to accurately identify the species down to species level, then (a) leave the broader species category with the default flowering intensity rating (that is “Select intensity”), and (b) add a new row with the accurate species name and flowering intensity. You may also wish to add a note to the details page. Similarly, it is also possible that occasional tree and mistletoe species may have been missed during the site set-up process. In these cases, it is fine to add in an additional row.
Yes please! If you are aware of an area of suitable habitat that is historically known to be used by the target species, or could potentially be used by them, please let us know. We have a spreadsheet of future suitable locations to be assessed and added. We will then endeavour to undertake a ground-truthing assessment of the proposed site, and collect all of the relevant details, prior to the next survey period. Email us with the details of the proposed location, preferably including a photo or two and the mapping coordinates for the centrepoint.
Ideally, any new proposed survey sites would meet the following criteria:
No. To maximise the coverage of all locations, it is encouraged that you make contact with your local regional coordinator beforehand, but not essential. The system has been established so that the regional coordinator adds value to the process, but is not critical. There are also some localities that are not yet covered by regional coordinators. Regional coordinators aim to have most of the survey points in their area visited at least once during each survey period. If you do decide to make contact with a regional coordinator, they may be able to allocate a set of monitoring sites to you as a one-off (e.g., if you are visiting an area for a single occasion), or on an ongoing basis (e.g., if you are a resident or regular visitor to the area). It is possible that the regional coordinators may already have all of their local sites covered by volunteers. In this case, they may be able to direct you to sites that would benefit from having multiple visits during a survey period. Alternatively, you may then decide to offer your assistance elsewhere within another locality that is not currently covered by birdwatchers. The BirdLife Australia Woodland Birds team can help direct you towards these underresourced localities.
Yes. We have not established a standard protocol for monitoring for Swift Parrots and other birds when travelling between monitoring points on foot, in a vehicle or by other means. However, if you can safely keep an eye and ear out during this transition between sites, please do so. Any successful sightings could be added to Birdata as a “General Birdata Survey.
No. At present, we have received funding support for the establishment of monitoring points on mainland Australia. In future years, it is possible that additional sites may be added within the Tasmanian distribution and habitats for the Swift Parrot.
There is a range of reasons why you may not be able to reach the centrepoint of a monitoring site – e.g., flooded or damaged access tracks, fallen trees or branches, temporary road closures, etc. If there are no other reasonable routes to reach the site by vehicle, and it is also too far or unsuitable to walk there from the nearest accessible location (e.g., more than 200 metres away), then it is completely fine to leave this site as unsurveyed.
No, but…Like the measurements of flowering intensity, it is not essential to document the presence or absence of open freshwater at the time of the survey within the circular 50-metre search area. However, it is encouraged, as it is an important piece of information about the possible triggers for the movements and distribution of Swift Parrots, Regent Honeyeaters, and other birds.
For the purposes of the “Swift Parrot Search” water is considered to be present within the circular 50-metre radius search area, if there is a source of fresh water that could potentially be used for drinking by Swift Parrots, Regent Honeyeaters and other woodland birds.
This could include:
– Flowing rivers, creeks, and other ephemeral waterways (both natural and artificial)
– Waterways that have been reduced to a series of disconnected ponds of water
– Artificial waterbodies (e.g., dams)
– Natural wetlands
– Temporary puddles and pools (e.g., within a pothole in the road)
– Bird baths, water troughs and other constructed water vessels
You should also only answer yes to this question if there is actual water present at the time of the survey. If waterbodies, creeks and other potential water storage vessels are all completely dry at the time of the survey, then the answer should be no. Similarly, the presence
of dew on leaves and other foliage at the time of survey is not considered to compromise the presence of water – and if this is the only source present, then you should answer no to this question.