New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2012) 36(3): 324- 332

Using five-minute bird counts to study magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) impacts on other birds in New Zealand

Research Article
John Innes *,1
Eric B. Spurr 2
Greg C. Arnold 3
Dai Morgan 4
Joseph R. Waas 4
Corinne Watts 1
  1. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Waikato Mail Centre, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
  3. Landcare Research, Private Bag 11052, Manawatu Mail Centre, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand (deceased)
  4. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

We used five-minute bird counts to investigate whether introduced Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) influence the abundance of other birds in rural New Zealand. Over 3 years, magpies were removed from five c. 900-ha study blocks, one in each of Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington and Southland. Birds were counted in both the treatment blocks and paired non-treatment blocks for the 3 years of removal and also 1 year before. To minimise problems raised elsewhere with index counts we (1) selected treatment blocks and count stations using randomisation procedures, (2) used trained observers who spent equal time in paired treatment and non-treatment blocks, and (3) counted all blocks at the same time of year and only in good weather. On average, 548 magpies were removed from each treatment block each year, with magpie counts reduced by 62% relative to non-treatment blocks. Our results suggest magpies may restrict the movements of some birds (including kereru and tui) in rural areas, but are less important than pest mammals at limiting population abundance at a landscape scale. We submit that five-minute bird counts were appropriate for our objectives, but that more research to examine their relationship to absolute densities is needed.