Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Detailed instructions for teachers

This year’s survey:  Saturday 30th June - Sunday 8th July 2018

The garden bird survey is a simple bird-watching activity that connects children with the outside environment. It can be done as a class activity and/or at home.

Why take part?

  • Because it’s a fun activity!
  • It can easily be built into the curriculum (e.g. animal classification, population studies, hypothesis testing, data gathering, data analysis, report writing)
  • It introduces the concept and practice of carrying out simple surveys, which are important for scientific enquiry and a basic tool of conservation (you can’t look after wildlife properly unless you know what’s there and how much of it there is)
  • It conveys positive messages about caring for the environment, knowing and protecting what’s there
  • It can be a simple one-off activity or a catalyst for many environmental activities and projects
  • It can contribute to badge work (e.g. Science Badge, Duke of Edinburgh award, Science Fair)

Materials and equipment needed


Before the survey, encourage children to learn to identify the different birds they see. Download the Activboard resource pack with images of garden birds to use on your interactive whiteboard. There are several good books and also some websites they can consult. Children could also be encouraged to make their own identification guides.

How long will it take?

The survey lasts one hour. If one hour is too long for your class period, it can be split into two half-hour spells, or three 20-minute spells, or four quarter-hour spells. The final result should be for a total of one hour, recording the highest number of each species seen at one time during that hour. Children can work together in groups of 2–4 (or more?), some spotting birds and calling out the species and number seen, others checking or confirming the identification and number seen, and one recording the results on the recording form. You may like to have one group watch for 10 minutes while others in the class do other activities, then a second group take over, and so on. Do whatever works for your class. But remember to send in only one form for each one-hour survey (see Questions & Answers).

Where to do the survey

The children can count birds from inside or outside the classroom. Inside is like being in a bird hide; the birds can’t see you and continue to behave naturally. The children can stand or sit at a desk near a window, perhaps with drink bottles and something to eat, and watch birds through the window. If the children are outside, they need to be careful not to frighten birds away from where they are watching. They could sit on a bench or chairs. If the school has a bird feeder or water bath, children may like to watch the area of school ground that includes that feature because it is likely to have more birds than elsewhere in the school. The children don’t have to be able to see the whole school ground, just part of it. Children could also be encouraged to do the survey at home, either individually, or with family or friends.

What to record

Instruct the children to record the highest number of each species they see at one time during the one hour observation period. For example, they might see blackbirds four times during the hour; first they might see 3 birds, then 2, then 3 again, and finally just 1. In this case, they should report 3 blackbirds because that was the greatest number they saw at any one time. They shouldn’t add the numbers up, because they can only be certain that the most individual blackbirds they saw in the garden or playground was 3.

Where to send results

We encourage you to get children to enter their results directly onto the Web. It may take them a little time to learn how to use the online data entry system but it should be relatively straightforward once they’ve got used to it. They can then view their own data and data submitted by other people, and can see how their counts compare with others (e.g. other schools). If the children participate as a group (e.g. as part of a school class) they should enter only one set of data for the whole group (i.e. one set of data for each one‑hour survey). We don’t want separate entries from 30 children all seeing the same blackbird! However, children may do surveys at more than one location (e.g. at school and at home), in which case they should enter results separately for each location.

If Web entry is not an option for your class, paper forms can be posted or faxed to the address on the form. Again, only one form per group please.

We would be grateful for teacher feedback and any experiences you’d like to share, including photos, which we could put on the Web for others to benefit from.