Read about the history of the five-minute bird count method, and DOC's work to collate national 5MBC data.


As early as 1940 researchers in New Zealand were looking for ways to successfully count birds in New Zealand’s dense forests.

In the summers of 1972 and 1973 the DSIR (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) tested a variety of counting methods.

This research resulted in David Dawson and Peter Bull’s 1975 paper "Counting birds in New Zealand forests". It recommended the five-minute bird count method. The paper described the method in detail and researchers started using it immediately.

Since 1975 there have been hundreds of studies all over New Zealand using this method. These studies form a valuable resource because they all used the same method and they are historical.

5MBC studies (MS Excel, 420K)

Collecting information about old studies

In 2003 the Department of Conservation (DOC) became interested in old five-minute bird counts after Ian Westbrooke and Adam Smith's study at Pureora. They compared old counts with recent counts at the same place. Read the study:

Changes in bird conspicuousness at Pureora Forest (on the Notornis website)  

The 5MBC project

The Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) programme funded a project to gather information (metadata) about old studies. We found over 200 but were worried the data was scattered all over the country and some was already lost.

A 5MBC database

In 2005 TFBIS extended the funding and we developed a purpose-built database for old data. We focused on entering old and large datasets. We now have over 500 studies amounting to over 120,000 counts.

The database is not directly accessible to the public yet but the 5MBC Data Administrator can send out datasets on request. You can see a list of the datasets in the 5MBC database.

Datasets in the 5MBC database (MS Excel, 184K)

Additional 5MBC work

DOC is evaluating the method along with other bird monitoring methods such as distance sampling and mark-resight. This is part of work on establishing a consistent set of standards for monitoring freshwater and terrestrial organisms. This is part of the Natural Heritage Management System (NHMS) programme.

Find out more about NHMS:

Standardising biodiversity monitoring methods, (PDF 785K)

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