Programme details

Five Minute Bird Count: Profile of a Data Analysis Success

Wednesday 10:45am - 11:15am, (CITRENZ venue 1)

The Five Minute Bird Count (5MBC) is a method of systematically and reliably assessing relative changes in bird density in a chosen area. The method is based on Dawson & Bull (1975) and has been used in Wellington’s Kaori Reservoir Valley since 1995. A person stays in a chosen spot for 5 minutes, counting the birds that are observed or heard. The numbers are recorded and combined. Zealandia was the world's first mainland fenced sanctuary. It is within the Kaori Reservoir Valley, the Reservoir having been decommissioned in the early 90’s. The Ornithological Society of New Zealand Inc (Birds NZ) initially undertook research around 5MBC sites within and outside the fence. The initial ten years of this survey was reported by Dr Colin Miskelly (2018). The Zealandia conservation team continues this survey at regular intervals.

This paper documents the process used by the capstone project students to map the sites and looking at spatial distribution of birds, using over twenty years of data regularly collected from 40 sites across what is now the Zealandia Valley ( The project started with the consolidation and cleansing of data from two sources (Birds NZ and Zealandia). The data was then subjected to analytical investigation using data science processes and statistical programming tools (mainly the R analysis environment) to detect trends and patterns in the changing populations of key bird species. The primary output from the project was a digital dashboard that uses a variety of methods to show changes in distribution of birds. There was particular interest in changes in native bird populations.

Work has since been undertaken to see if a correlation can be seen between the changes in bird density and changes in vegetation as the protected Zealandia native bush has regenerated in the twenty-two years during which the fence has kept all invasive mammals out of the area.

The paper suggests a range of ways this data could be used by similar data science projects to further enhance the contribution of Zealandia and Wellington conservation volunteers the ambitious target to make New Zealand predator free by the year 2050 (