We consider a class of continuous-time branching processes called Markovian binary trees (MBTs), in which the individuals lifetime and reproduction epochs are modelled using a transient Markovian arrival process (TMAP). We develop methods for estimating the parameters of the TMAP by using either age-specific averages of reproduction and mortality rates, or age-specific individual demographic data. Depending on the degree of detail of the available information, we follow a weighted non-linear regression or a maximum likelihood approach. We discuss several criteria to determine the optimal number of states in the underlying TMAP. Our results improve the fit of an existing MBT model for human demography, and provide insights for the future conservation management of the threatened Chatham Island black robin population.