About New Zealand Birds Online

New Zealand Birds Online is a searchable encyclopaedia of New Zealand birds. You can find detailed information about all 482 species of New Zealand birds, including all living, extinct, fossil, vagrant and introduced bird species. The database is searchable by name, conservation status, and geographical distribution. Explore the site to read expert-written texts, listen to sound files of bird calls, and browse more than 13,000 photographs.

The New Zealand Birds Online project had its genesis while I was employed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Several colleagues there had been closely involved with creating the Plant Conservation Network website, and kept asking why there was no bird equivalent. My move to Te Papa in mid-2010 provided an opportunity to promote the idea, which was supported by Te Papa’s Natural Environment team. With the backing of the Council of Birds New Zealand, a joint application was made to the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information Systems (TFBIS) fund, and the website name ‘New Zealand Birds Online’ was selected.

The intended audience for the website was anyone with an interest in New Zealand birds, from novice to professional. We made an early decision to use crowd-sourcing for the main types of content, namely written texts and digital images. Funding was obtained early in 2011, and the project was underway. Recognised experts on many New Zealand bird species were contacted later in 2011 and invited to contribute texts. Each author was provided with sample texts, a template and instructions, to ensure a consistent style. Concurrent with this, the web design company Signify was contracted to prepare a pre-live website to receive texts, images, sound files and other content. This was populated with a comprehensive database of the names, conservation status and distribution of all New Zealand birds, to provide a framework for the crowd-sourced content.

Remaining species texts were offered to Birds New Zealand members and subscribers to two New Zealand birding websites, with all texts allocated to a total of 111 authors by mid 2012. Photographers were invited to register on the pre-live site, and began loading images in August 2012. Soon after this, bird sound archivist Les McPherson was contracted to load sound files of New Zealand birds, and ‘webatlas’ maps derived from the Atlas of bird distribution in New Zealand 1999-2004 were provided by Christopher Robertson.

The Department of Conservation was invited (or persuaded!) to join the partnership during 2012, providing access to a very significant image archive donated by staff of DOC and its parent agency the New Zealand Wildlife Service. These included historic images from the 1960s (e.g. of bird species that became extinct after rats invaded the Big South Cape islands off southern Stewart Island), and many images from outlying island groups.

All original 457 draft texts were received by early March 2013; by this date over 1100 sound files of 368 species had been loaded. Image loading and selection was completed in late April, with over 6500 images from 254 photographers. A contract to design the front end of the website was awarded to Wellington-based website design company Samdog in February 2013, and the website was completed in time for the launch date that had been set way back in 2010, namely at the New Zealand Bird Conference in Dunedin on 2 June 2013.

The website is very much a product of the generosity of literally hundreds of contributors, whose names you will see as authors, photographers and sound recordists. But there are many more people who contributed long hours of volunteer time without explicit recognition, particularly during those last two hectic months. I am indebted to Dallas Bishop & Geoff de Lisle, Ros & Derek Batcheler, Michael Szabo, Raewyn Adams, Toni de Lautour, Philip Griffin, Phil Parnell, Ralph Powlesland, and Robyn Smith for their assistance with loading and checking data, texts and captions. Thanks also to the publishers and authors who generously allowed extracts from their books to be reproduced.

Ongoing management of the website is covered by an agreement between Te Papa, Birds New Zealand and DOC, with the website hosted on the Te Papa website, and Birds New Zealand taking the lead on content management and updates.

Colin Miskelly

Project manager and editor

June 2013