A key birding initiative has been given a boost by the sighting of one of Australia’s rarest birds, the swift parrot, in Melbourne.
The arrival of the swift parrot – travelling through Victoria on its return to breeding grounds in Tasmania – has helped spur the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, which starts on October 19.
The count takes place during National Bird Week and is designed to encourage home-owners to pay attention to the birds that might be visiting their gardens, and to record numbers over a seven-day period.
Since its inception six years ago the bird count has not only served as an educational tool to encourage an interest in birds, particularly among children, it has also turned into one of the biggest citizen-science projects in the country.
With declining bird populations nationwide, the count is enabling researchers to plan how suburbs can be turned into bird refuges.
The survey has taken on an added relevance following last summer’s widespread bushfires on the mainland. Scientists now want to know how many of the woodland birds affected by the fires moved into towns and cities.
The swift parrot was spotted in suburban Melbourne by one of the people behind the backyard bird count, Sean Dooley of Birdlife Australia.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he set a challenge for friends and colleagues to spot as many birds as they could under lockdown, observed in home gardens or during exercise runs and walks.
He had reached a total of 55 birds when the swift parrot suddenly landed on a branch outside his window while he was taking a Zoom call with colleagues at the Birdlife Australia headquarters in central Melbourne.
“They perfectly understood that I had to leave the call and race outside,” said Dooley. “People think they do not see amazing natural things in the city, but there was this bird – rarer than a tiger, rarer than a panda – outside my house. That’s a pretty exciting yet poignant moment.”
This year’s backyard count comes as the pastime of birdwatching is becoming ever more popular worldwide in these pandemic times. Membership of birding organisations internationally is booming and people contributing to the annual Birdlife Australia autumn survey of birds this year rose almost tenfold, from 241 contributors to 2242.
Although the Birdlife Australia surveys are usually conducted by serious, committed birders, the backyard count gives casual observers a chance to “make a difference” in the national effort to save our birds.
Not only that, birds are also interesting to view and study, and can give an added dimension to the garden.
Dooley has been heavily promoting the joy of birdwatching in the press and on radio and television this past month. As he said on morning television recently: “Birds are messengers from another world”.
To take part, download the app. at https://aussiebirdcount.org.au/