Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Careful observation is something our tūpuna were experts at. Data collected from observations informed them in the care of mahinga kai by making predictions about weather and harvests. As their environment changed due to natural occurrences, the way in which they cared for the environment needed to be modified. The continued careful observations were key to ensuring longevity and health of the taiao and much-needed resources for future generations.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, and Te Kura o Manunui

    Data collection for citizen science projects

    Tamariki can contribute to citizen science projects such as the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey by recording and sharing their observations with scientists. Participating in the survey provides opportunities for students to engage with data and develop related science capabilities. It can be useful to choose one capability to focus on – gathering data is a great place to start.

    Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa | New Zealand Garden Bird Survey is the country’s longest-running citizen science project with over 44,000 surveys undertaken by individuals, schools and community groups. All these surveys create a large amount of data.

    Research scientist Dr Angela Brandt and her team at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research carefully check the survey results to ensure the data they use is as accurate as possible. First, they remove data that is incomplete or has errors. They then consider different variables such as whether birds were being fed or whether the survey was done in an urban or rural area. The team uses supercomputers to help process the large amounts of data they receive.

    Once processed, the data is used to produce graphs for the State of NZ Garden Birds report and is uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, which can be accessed by researchers all over the world. The information from these reports helps experts see how birds are coping with environmental challenges and what might be done to help them.

    Gathering and interpreting data

    For information on how to complete the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey, go here.

    When doing the survey, tamariki are making and recording observations – they are gathering data. Identifying birds from a distance can be challenging.

    How you can support students’ observation skills:

    • Help students identify which senses they are using (usually sight) and if any other senses might be useful (possibly hearing).
    • Practise making observations and discussing the results.
    • Use peer review. When students identify a bird for the survey, their peers could ask what features they used for identification. Was it the colour, feather patterns, behaviour or something else?
    • Encourage students to consider how confident they feel about their survey results. How could they feel more confident? Perhaps through practice, using tools like binoculars and identification guides or checking results with others.

    Interpreting data involves making meaning from observations. A conclusion drawn from observations is called an inference. Useful questions to distinguish between these concepts:

    • What did you see? (observation)
    • What might that mean? (inference)

    For example, a student might only observe and record one type of bird (observation) and infer that there is only one type of bird in the area (inference).

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Participating in the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey

    Completing the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey helps researchers understand how birds are coping with environmental challenges. It also helps to build a long-term biodiversity dataset to understand the impact of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity.

    Using data and interpreting representations

    When working as a scientist, we need to ensure that inferences are valid and explanations are robust. To support students with this, ask these questions:

    • Could there be another explanation for this data?
    • Do you need to collect more data?

    It is good to provide opportunities for learners to communicate and debate their ideas with others.

    Scientists represent their research in a variety of ways, including models, graphs, charts, diagrams and written texts. The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey uses representations such as barplots and maps to communicate the survey results from the last 5 years and the last 10 years.

    To support learners to think about how data is presented, ask these questions:

    • What does this representation tell us?
    • What is left out?
    • How does this representation get the message across?
    • Why is it presented in this particular way?

    Having students create their own representations can help them understand the choices researchers make when sharing their work.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

    Kua pēhea te rerekē o ngā tatauranga manu o te kāri?

    Birds act as backyard barometers – telling us about the health of the environment we live in. They are signalling significant changes in our environment over the last 10 years.

    Graph from: Hayman, E., Brandt, A. J., MacLeod, C. J., Howard, S., Diprose, G., Gormley, A. M., & Spurr, E. B. (2024). Te Āhua o ngā Manu o te Kāri i Aotearoa. Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.

    Comparing data

    A great way to get students discussing data is to make comparisons. Here are some examples:

    • Ask students to partner up and compare their results from doing the survey, a practice run or from a prepared example. Are the results the same? Can they explain why they might be the same or different?
    • Compare individual results to the class, school or regional results from the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey website. Discuss the importance of having multiple surveys completed, identifying patterns and providing possible explanations.
    • Compare a particular bird species or connect with a school in another rohe to discuss their results.

    The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey results allow comparisons to past years. Asking learners to predict possible future trends can be a useful discussion that may lead to ideas around agency and action. Add ideas about the future to the Ake Ake – forever and ever model.

    Use the slideshow below for step-by-step instructions for engaging your class with data from the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey – exploring data – Slideshow

    Use this slideshow to explore the data from the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey.

    Remember to check the notes that accompany the slides. They contain prompting questions and teaching suggestions.

    Use the slideshow menu for further options, including view full screen, and go here for the download option.

    Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa

    This article is part of a suite of resources for kaiako and tauira to immerse themselves in learning, understanding and acknowledging the birdlife in our environment. Other resources include:

    Related content

    This article explores the resurgence of indigenous knowledge and growing acknowledgement of its scientific value worldwide.

    Data is a complex concept. Learn more about internet data in the articles Data about data and Data and how we use it.

    Sensing data, a level 4 Connected article, provides an introduction to big data and the internet of things and how they are used to address air pollution in Christchurch.

    Our recorded webinars Making sense of data and Delving into data provides lots of great information and ideas for teaching about data.

    Activity ideas

    The following activities offer opportunities to make sense of data:

    When exploring the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey data with your class, consider talking about data sovereignty. Some of the ideas related to data sovereignty are covered in the article ChatGPT and Māori data sovereignty.

    Useful links

    Results from previous New Zealand Garden Bird Surveys can be found here.

    To find out more about what’s happening with garden birds in your region, reports for individual regions are available, or check out the full State of NZ Garden Birds 2023 | Te Āhua o ngā Manu o te Kāri i Aotearoa report.


    This resource has been produced in collaboration with Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

    Manaaki Whenua and New Zealand Garden Bird Survey

    Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research is a Crown research institute. Its core purpose is to drive innovation in the management of terrestrial biodiversity and land resources. One of the national projects it runs is the annual survey of garden birds Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa | New Zealand Garden Bird Survey. The data collected from citizen scientists helps researchers and practitioners understand how birds are coping with environmental challenges.

      Published 17 June 2024 Referencing Hub articles
          Go to full glossary
          Download all