Canberra’s Backyard Bird Count

Summer in the suburbs, a young Kookaburra on his maiden flight, resting on one of the Eucalyptus trees in our street.

Birdlife Australia has a wonderful program called Birds in the Backyard. 

It is a research, education and conservation program that was developed through concern that we are gradually losing small native birds from  parks and gardens, through rapid expansion of cities, suburbs and towns.

The Silver-eye in a neighbour’s garden..
An Eastern Spinebill, visits every autumn for the flowers of the pineapple sage.

One week of the year is set aside for the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. During this week, individuals can participate in collecting data by recording the birds we see, in twenty minute periods.

Birds can be recorded in our own backyard, a local park, a main street of a town, a beach, or a patch of forest….anywhere in Australia.

The Wattle bird, feeding on the nectar from a Bottlebrush bush.

In 2018 Australians counted 2.7 million birds including 30 000 Rainbow Lorikeets.

The rise of Rainbow Lorikeets shows how the Aussie backyard has changed from the traditional European-style cottage gardens, to more native gardens.

Lorikeets are nectar-loving birds and like to forage on the flowers of Eucalypts, Bottle-brushes and Grevillias to harvest nectar and pollen.

There are still many pretty cottage plants and gardens in the suburb, mixed with native street trees.

My daughter and her family live in an inner city suburb in Melbourne. (Melbourne is the second biggest city in Australia.) It is a rapidly changing suburb from the original workers cottages to townhouses for a younger generation.

One constant in the suburb is the street trees. The streets we walk down regularly are lined with Bottle brushes and Eucalypts. It is a pleasure to walk to the coffee shop, and look at the gardens and the bird-laden trees and shrubs along the way.

Melbourne is well known for warm and inviting coffee shops too.

Grafted Red Flowering Eucalyptus trees

At Christmas time we noticed some of the street trees were decorated by local residents and children, and the flowers could out do any Christmas decorations!

In the same suburb of Melbourne, the park and playing fields are lined with palm trees. I don’t know the history of these trees, but the Rainbow Lorikeets are feeding and  nesting in them too, which show how adaptable they are. Lorikeets, are, unfortunately very bossy birds, and tend to dominate other species of birds.

The data collected from the Aussie Backyard Bird Count records the three top birds counted in every state in Australia that year.

The the top three birds counted in Canberra and surrounds (Australian Capital Territory) were……..The Australian Magpie

The Magpies enjoying a summer bath in our garden.

The second most recorded bird was the Crimson Rosella.

The Crimson Rosella enjoying some Pineapple Sage in our garden..

and the third was the  Pied Currawong.

The currawong is a handsome looking bird, and flies into the garden with the precision of a jet pilot. Whip smart, he knows where to find water, and also little birds nesting in trees.  Once the currawong arrives in the garden, the little birds disappear.

The bird count can make everyone feel a bit territorial and competitive about our favourite birds…

I’ve heard the New South Wales magpies have slightly different colour markings to our Magpies in Canberra, and are more striking….

and here is a New South Wales Magpie…and she is putting on the Ritz…

Whereas our Magpies, looking a bit scruffy, are pulling plants out of the garden,

However, the very young Canberra Magpie in the photo below began her early life in the courtyards of Parliament House,  and is entertaining all the visitors with her beautiful birdsong. So she is a celebrity from day one!

I’ve used this photo frequently, but it is hard to resist this cute little Magpie, her warbling to be heard through the courtyards of Parliament House.

At the end of the Backyard Bird Count week, we can vote for our favourite of the 50 most popular birds in Australia. (an impossible task of course)

This year I have voted  for the Eastern Spinebill. This tiny little bird, with a mighty strong call, can be heard every autumn in our  garden. He comes to the Peppermint Sage plant in our backyard regularly every year (in the uncertain natural world, this is a comfort).  He competes with the bossy Wattlebird for food, and stands his ground. This is the Lion-heart of little birds.

The Eastern Spinebill (c) Ian Wilson 2015

In and around Canberra this spring there have been an abundance of smaller native birds which are unusual to Canberra (to me anyway). On my Canberra Wildlife Photography Facebook page, I have seen photos of Leaden Flycatchers, Rainbow Bee-Eaters, Sacred Kingfisher and a Rufus Songlark. Perhaps the drought is moving these birds closer to Canberra for the water and relatively easy food sources. They are very welcome.

I hope you have some sunshine, rain, plants and birds, where ever you are in the world. The joys of life!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.







16 Replies to “Canberra’s Backyard Bird Count”

  1. I’m at a loss for words which doesn’t happen often. 🙂 All of your birds are beyond beautiful, but the Crimson Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, Kookaburra, Cockatoos, and The Eastern Spinebill just take my breath away. It’s also interesting to hear how your suburbs are changing. Our towns are doing the same thing. There are lots of high rise top end apartments going up for commuters especially since we have a bus and train system that goes directly to Boston. Enjoy the amazing show your visitors put on. Love your header shot too. 🙂

    1. Thanks Judy, re the header I was lucky to get a photo of the swans that day. I was interested to read that you have the same building changes happening in your suburbs. Any suburb near a train line in Melbourne now has very expensive real estate.

  2. I really enjoyed all of your beautiful photos and explanations. “Bird-laden trees” is such a wonderful description, Gerrie. I keep playing that phrase over in my head since I first read your post a few hours ago. You are so blessed to have such an abundance of colourful bird life. The gorgeous shot of the Canberra magpie at Parliament House does bear re-blogging frequently. Stunning. Thanks so much for sharing. xx

  3. These bird counts can be very useful and are also great fun to take part in. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) does one every year too, in January to see what birds are visiting our parks and gardens in the winter. It is interesting to hear that gardens in Australia increasingly, are being planted with native plants rather than a European-type cottage garden. This must surely be a very good thing for the native wildlife in general, not just for the birds.
    Lovely post, Gerrie!

    1. Thanks Clare, and I agree the bird count is both useful and also good fun, especially for young children. Yes, I think the native plants are encouraging butterflies, bees, and may other insects, now we have ladybirds in our garden for the first time in years!

      Despite some species of birds surviving and thriving in suburbia, I have read of quite a few species of birds that are seriously affect by the increasing towns and development.

    1. Yes, definitely good to see native plants being planted more frequently….and yes, that Currawong can be quite a predator!

  4. Wonderful, wonderful post. I was positively agog looking at all the exotic (to me) birds. I was especially struck by your observation: “The rise of Rainbow Lorikeets shows how the Aussie backyard has changed from the traditional European-style cottage gardens, to more native gardens.” Sure makes the case for gardens that include native plants.

    1. Thanks Laurie, we do have a lot more native plants in our garden these days, and they definitely bring the birds…which is all the more fun!

  5. We have a similar program conducted in winter – the great backyard bird count. But we don’t have as many really colorful birds as you do. Glad to hear that the rainbow lorikeets are becoming more common in the suburbs. Such a magnificent bird!

  6. As always it’s such a pleasure seeing your beautiful, exotic birds. These bird counts are so useful for seeing the health of bird populations. We have an annual bird count too, sadly, most of our species are in decline along with much of our native wildlife. A wonderful, interesting

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