Recent activity

New Zealand Birds Online!

Grant RW Humphries, June 16, 2013

Posting on behalf of Colin Miskelly

New Zealand Birds Online is alive and kicking

New Zealand Birds Online – the digital encyclopaedia of New Zealand birds – was launched on 2 June, and is freely available to all at Please have a look if you haven’t already.

The website is a collaboration between Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand), the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, and the Department of Conservation. It covers all 457 bird species on the New Zealand list, including Miocene fossils, recently extinct species, vagrant species, introduced species and all living native bird species.

Original texts were provided by 111 different authors, and over 250 photographers contributed 6500+ images, including at least one image for all species, living and extinct. The website also has over 1100 sound files (representing almost all living species and a few extinct ones), and over 1300 extracts from existing publications.

The website has several features that we consider to be ‘novel’. Some may be unique, but that is an over-used term, and there are a lot of websites out there to check before we can be confident that no-one has done it before. The novel features include:

1. Identify that bird

The website is easy to use if you know the name of the bird of interest, but what if you are a complete novice? Or have just seen an interesting bird, but have no idea what it is called? ‘Identify that bird’ should lead you to the correct page of the website within three easy steps: (1) select the habitat where you saw the bird; (2) select the image closest to what you saw (with each image representing a similar-looking group of birds); (3) select an image from among a cluster of images of similar species, leading you to the page for that species.

2. Integrated site lists

Over 150 ‘Location’ site lists have been pre-loaded on the website. If a user selects a site (from the map, or by typing a site name in the search box), they get a list of bird species at that site, all with a thumbnail image and a link to their respective species pages. The default search settings return a list of species that breed at that site, or are regularly present (but not breeding), listed in ‘standard species sequence’ – i.e. the taxonomic order used in the 2010 Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. But you can re-order the list alphabetically by common name or scientific name if you choose. And if you want to know what species have occurred at the site on rare occasions, or species formerly present, or extinct species that occurred at that site, you can select or de-select any combination of these, then click ‘Apply’ to see your customised list.

3. Customised site ticklists

Once you have selected and ordered the bird-list for the site of interest (which can be as large as all of New Zealand, New Zealand excluding outlying island groups, North Island or South Island), you can print a ticklist based on your selection. For example, if you intend walking the Heaphy Track, you can print a ticklist of the birds you might see. Your list could just include the ‘regular’ species (i.e. the default settings), or could choose to print a list that includes black swan, white heron, cattle egret, bar-tailed godwit, banded dotterel, black-billed gull, Caspian tern, rock wren, skylark, greenfinch and goldfinch (i.e. species recorded from the Heaphy Track, but not regularly present).

4. Search by bird group

In addition to searching by a bird name, we have included the option of searching by bird group name e.g. gamebirds, bush birds, raptors...over 100 group names have been entered. This provides ‘cleaner’ searches than when search by a bird name. For example, if you search for ‘moa’ under ‘Name’, you get the nine expected moa species, plus white-faced storm petrel (takahikare-moana) and reef heron (matuku moana). If you search for ‘moa’ as a ‘Bird group’ you get the nine expected moa species and no more.

5. Integration of information on living, extinct and fossil species

Bird group searches return a default list of living species (not extinct or fossil), that are endemic plus native plus introduced (but not vagrant). All of these filters can be selected or de-selected in any combination, so if you want a list of all native waterfowl species, including 20 million year-old St Bathans fossils, but excluding (Introduced) mute swan, Cape Barren goose, greylag goose, Canada goose and mallard, it is easy to do.

6. Ease of searching by conservation status

The ‘Conservation status’ search tab shows a hierarchical diagram of the New Zealand threat classification scheme, and allows users to select different levels within the hierarchy, e.g. all Threatened species, or just those that are Nationally Critical. [Please note that this is at a species level (i.e. the website is based on having one page per species) whereas the DOC threat classification system is applied at the subspecies or even population level. This means that threatened subspecies may be concealed under the umbrella of a less-threatened subspecies of the same species. For example, the ‘Nationally Critical’ Campbell Island snipe appears as a subspecies of the ‘At Risk / Naturally Uncommon’ subantarctic snipe.]

7. Book-cover icons as portals to published information

The website has been generously supported by several book publishers and authors, who have agreed to extracts from their publications being re-published on relevant species pages. In some cases this means over 450 extracts from a single book. The publishers are: Te Papa Press (Checklist of the birds of New Zealand), The Ornithological Society of New Zealand (Checklist of the birds of New Zealand, and Webatlas maps derived from the Atlas of bird distribution in New Zealand), Penguin Group (The field guide to the birds of New Zealand), Arun Books (Birds of New Zealand – locality guide, and The discovery of New Zealand’s birds), and the Department of Conservation (Birds of the Chatham Islands). The book extracts are all accessed by clicking on an icon based on the book’s cover. This has been designed to be attractive and intuitive to use, and also explicitly acknowledges the generosity and intellectual property of the publishers and authors, by promoting their ‘product’ on every page where an extract appears. Each book-cover icon has a link next to it that leads to a page where the publisher can provide details of how or where to purchase the book, and other bird titles in their stable.

You can also follow New Zealand Birds Online via Twitter @NZBirdsOnline - - and on Facebook -

Colin Miskelly
Project Manager and Editor
New Zealand Birds Online