An Introductory Guide to Monitoring Birds

This manual is intended as an introduction to bird monitoring and census techniques. Counting birds, or indeed any animals or plants, is probably one of the most underestimated aspects of biology and field ecology. People often assume that all one has to do is go out there and count. Regrettably it is not quite that easy.

The take-home message of this document is to instill upon the reader that in order to conduct appropriate and meaningful monitoring they must first start by asking questions. What exactly do they want to know? Do they want a total count of all bird species or a general idea of what may be present at certain times of the year?

If the questioner wants to know how to manage habitat to the benefit of birds and other wildlife then clearly they will also need to ask additional questions about the habitat, vegetation and the broader ecological environment. Having established the appropriate questions, the observer should then decide how this can be done in such a way that is practical, meaningful and achievable. It would be unfortunate to have designed a great study if the resources of time, personnel, finance and equipment were limited and/or not available. Consequently, it is important to realistic as to what you can do.

Many individuals may start a study with sincere and good intentions. They have organised their thoughts and have devised a good program but have not paid enough attention to what they will do with the data, and how it will be stored and subsequently analysed. It is not uncommon for these data to languish in a file and never see the light of day. In truth, we are just as guilty of this as anyone but we should all strive to communicate our findings and our hard work in the field. Thus the writing of a report that details what questions were asked, how the work was done, and the findings and conclusions of that work is essential. We submit that one of the important aims of the bird monitoring workshop is to form the basis for long-term monitoring of the birds and their habitat. It is only with these data that informed species and habitat management may be achieved. 

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