Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What birds are you likely to see in a Canberra garden?

Red Wattlebird
Red Wattlebird
If you live in Canberra, what birds are you likely to see near your home? I have been playing around with different measures of bird abundance to address that question, using data from the Canberra Garden Bird Survey.

The Canberra Garden Bird Survey (GBS) is a community based, volunteer survey that has been run by the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) since 1981. Despite its name, it isn't strictly a garden bird survey at all. It is probably better described as an urban bird survey, but even that isn't completely accurate since the survey does include rural residential sites. The survey records bird abundance in sites of about 3.1 ha (31,000 m2) that are around or near where people live or work. Site shape and location are of participants choosing, usually around their home or place of work. Because sites are much larger than typical suburban yards, they include a range of habitats beyond the typical garden, especially where the home is near some kind of edge. Records are weekly throughout the year. The GBS years starts in July and ends in June. For each species observed during each week, the largest number of individuals in the site at the same time is recorded. Sites have come and gone over the 32 years of the survey, usually around 70 - 80 sites per year. Since mid last year I have been the coordinator of the GBS.

For the purpose of addressing the question What birds am I likely to see near a Canberra home I chose a distribution measure, a weekly presence measure and a "best site" weekly presence measure. I used the most recent 3 years of GBS data (from July 2009 to June 2012), and I excluded data from the rural sites, so it is just data suburban from Canberra and Queanbeyan. Using 3 years of data rather than just one gets a few more of the rarities that show up (for example, winter of 2009 was a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater year). 

The table below lists all 181 species that have recorded in suburban sites in the three years from June 2009 to July 2012 (the most recent 3 years for which data is available). The three measures are:
  • Distribution. The percentage of sites that had any record at all of the species in the 3 year period. There were about 90 sites in that period, so 1.1% means just one site recorded the bird.
  • Weekly presence. The percentage of the whole 3 year period for which any site had any record of the bird. There were 156 weeks in total, so 0.6% means that the species was recorded in just one week of the 3 years.
  • Best site-year weekly presence. This is the percentage of a year that the site with the highest  number of weekly records in one year recorded the bird. For example, 79% means that in at least one of the 3 years, at least one site recorded the bird for 41 weeks (79% of a year), and no site recorded it more often. Some birds a very common in some places but not in others. For example water birds are mostly only recorded in sites with water. Note that most sites do not record every week of the year, so a site which only has records for 45 weeks and records a species every one of those weeks will only count as 87%.
The table is ordered by Distribution and Weekly Presence.

The most common birds are recorded nearly everywhere, nearly all the time. Some birds, such as the Wedge-tailed Eagle which isn't an urban resident, but which soars over wide areas, are recorded in a lot places (37% of sites) and quite a lot of the time (59%), but nowhere are they often recorded (17% of the year for the best site-year). Other birds, like the Dusky Moorhen are record in only a few sites (4.2%), but are recorded nearly all the time in those sites.

There are other tables of bird abundance from the GBS in the COG Annual Bird Reports, published in Canberra Bird Notes.

Canberra Urban Birds by Distribution

% of sites with any record
Weekly Presence
% of period
with any record
Best site
Weekly presence
% year
1Crested Pigeon100.0100.0100
3Sulphur-crested Cockatoo100.0100.0100
4Red Wattlebird100.0100.0100
5Australian Magpie100.0100.0100
6Pied Currawong100.0100.0100
8Crimson Rosella97.9100.0100
9Eastern Rosella96.8100.0100
10Australian Raven96.8100.0100
12Common Blackbird93.7100.0100
13Common Myna93.7100.0100
14Superb Fairy-wren92.6100.0100
15Australian King-Parrot90.5100.0100
16Yellow-rumped Thornbill88.4100.0100
17Eastern Spinebill88.4100.0100
18Noisy Friarbird87.480.863
19Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike85.3100.079
20House Sparrow84.2100.0100
21Common Starling80.0100.0100
22Willie Wagtail78.9100.0100
23Spotted Pardalote77.9100.0100
24Grey Fantail76.898.779
25Striated Pardalote75.8100.0100
26Yellow-faced Honeyeater75.899.456
27Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo74.791.042
28Laughing Kookaburra73.7100.088
29Gang-gang Cockatoo66.3100.0100
30Little Corella63.2100.098
32Rock Dove61.1100.098
33Eastern Koel61.148.740
34Brown Thornbill60.0100.090
35Golden Whistler60.075.052
36Grey Butcherbird58.999.485
37Red-rumped Parrot52.6100.0100
38White-browed Scrubwren52.6100.0100
39Olive-backed Oriole50.583.363
40Noisy Miner49.5100.098
41White-winged Chough49.5100.079
42White-plumed Honeyeater48.483.362
43Southern Boobook48.482.746
44Spotted Dove47.4100.087
45Welcome Swallow47.495.577
46White-eared Honeyeater47.457.742
47Satin Bowerbird44.2100.0100
48Collared Sparrowhawk42.173.133
49Masked Lapwing38.9100.085
50Red-browed Finch36.8100.081
51Wedge-tailed Eagle36.859.017
52White-naped Honeyeater36.844.227
53Australian Wood Duck35.8100.088
54Australian Hobby35.869.223
55Superb Parrot35.867.350
56Rainbow Lorikeet32.6100.0100
57Striated Thornbill31.656.433
58Rufous Whistler31.653.227
60Grey Currawong28.491.781
61Australian White Ibis28.478.869
62Nankeen Kestrel28.463.535
63Double-barred Finch27.475.048
64Sacred Kingfisher23.228.815
65Brown Goshawk23.225.68
66White-faced Heron22.189.187
67Pacific Black Duck20.0100.092
69Dusky Woodswallow20.030.825
70White-throated Needletail18.915.46
71Common Bronzewing17.932.715
72Tawny Frogmouth16.845.523
73Fuscous Honeyeater16.834.635
74Little Raven16.825.613
75Scarlet Robin16.819.912
76Buff-rumped Thornbill15.853.256
77Pallid Cuckoo15.812.28
78Little Pied Cormorant14.796.287
79New Holland Honeyeater14.788.579
80Leaden Flycatcher14.725.023
81Fan-tailed Cuckoo14.719.215
82Australasian Darter13.750.642
83Grey Shrike-thrush12.642.946
84Yellow Thornbill12.641.044
85Rose Robin12.617.310
86Black Swan11.687.273
87European Goldfinch11.674.452
88Little Black Cormorant11.666.065
89Long-billed Corella11.649.492
90Peregrine Falcon11.621.810
91Black-shouldered Kite10.534.650
92Little Eagle10.530.819
93Rainbow Bee-eater10.59.06
94White-throated Treecreeper9.565.454
95Great Cormorant9.550.046
96Tree Martin9.513.58
97Brown Falcon9.59.010
98Rufous Fantail9.59.06
99Crescent Honeyeater8.414.117
100Australian Pelican8.412.829
101Straw-necked Ibis8.410.36
102Channel-billed Cuckoo8.46.44
103Shining Bronze-Cuckoo8.46.44
104White-browed Woodswallow8.43.82
105Silver Gull7.444.237
106Hybrid Crimson Eastern Rosella7.425.021
107White-throated Gerygone7.49.010
108Eastern Barn Owl6.34.54
109Australian Reed-Warbler5.355.850
110Yellow-tufted Honeyeater5.39.017
111Brown-headed Honeyeater5.34.54
112Satin Flycatcher5.32.62
113Dusky Moorhen4.298.183
114Purple Swamphen4.296.879
115Eurasian Coot4.287.885
116Golden-headed Cisticola4.224.452
118White-necked Heron4.23.84
119Western Gerygone4.23.24
120White-headed Pigeon4.22.62
121Swift Parrot4.22.62
123Eastern Great Egret3.233.354
124Grey Teal3.231.442
125Nankeen Night-Heron3.230.144
126White-winged Triller3.212.217
127Cattle Egret3.27.18
128Flame Robin3.25.16
129Fairy Martin3.25.18
130Restless Flycatcher3.23.24
131Grey Goshawk3.22.62
132Australian Owlet-nightjar3.21.92
133Australasian Grebe2.137.240
134Brown Quail2.121.848
135Little Grassbird2.119.229
136Latham's Snipe2.116.729
137Northern Mallard2.16.415
138Rufous Songlark2.15.16
139Buff-banded Rail2.13.86
140Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo2.13.24
141Stubble Quail2.11.94
142Pied Cormorant2.11.94
143Intermediate Egret2.11.94
144White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike2.11.92
145Royal Spoonbill2.11.32
146White-bellied Sea-Eagle2.11.32
147Princess Parrot2.11.32
148Southern Whiteface2.11.32
149Varied Sittella2.11.32
150Masked Woodswallow2.11.32
151Fork-tailed Swift2.10.62
152Australasian Pipit1.134.044
153Eurasian Skylark1.113.535
154Black Falcon1.12.66
155Black-fronted Dotterel1.12.68
156Australasian Figbird1.12.68
157Glossy Black-Cockatoo1.11.96
158Yellow Rosella1.11.96
159Zebra Finch1.11.34
160Musk Duck1.10.62
161Australian Shelduck1.10.62
162Pink-eared Duck1.10.62
163Australasian Shoveler1.10.62
164Chestnut Teal1.10.62
165Hoary-headed Grebe1.10.62
166Barbary dove1.10.62
167Peaceful Dove1.10.62
168Eastern Osprey1.10.62
169Whistling Kite1.10.62
170Spotted Harrier1.10.62
172Peachface lovebird1.10.62
173Brush Cuckoo1.10.62
174Speckled Warbler1.10.62
175Regent Honeyeater1.10.62
176Scarlet Honeyeater1.10.62
177Little Friarbird1.10.62
178Jacky Winter1.10.62
179Red-capped Robin1.10.62
180Diamond Firetail1.10.62
181Ring-necked Parakeet1.10.62

The most common birds:

Pied Currawong. Often in large noisy flocks in winter. 
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.
 Canberra's most abundant urban bird.
 Seen everywhere, all the time, in numbers.
Australian Magpie
Nearly all neighborhoods have a resident Magpie family
Galahs. Also seen everywhere, all the time, in numbers.

Crested Pigeon. Hardly ever seen 30 years ago. Numbers exploded in the 1990s. 

It was an exercise in frustration trying to get a readable table in a Blogger post. There is no editor support for tables in the standard Blogger editor, you have to do it in HTML. Getting anything to generate a decent table is also difficult. MS Word can give you an table, but its layout is grossly over specified. The website tableizer can turn CSV into a nice simple table, but it does not let you format it all - to do things like specify borders and to right align numeric columns. I ended using the tableizer output and adding formatting using jEdit with some regular expression based search and replace. jEdit is a free text editor that has good regular expression support.

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