Point counts are a standard sampling procedure for many bird species, but lingering concerns still exist about the quality of information produced from the method. It is well known that variation in observer ability and environmental conditions can influence the detection probability of birds in point counts, but many biologists have been reluctant to abandon point counts in favor of more intensive approaches to counting. However, over the past few years a variety of statistical and methodological developments have begun to provide practical ways of overcoming some of the problems with point counts. We describe some of these approaches, and show how they can be integrated into standard point count protocols to greatly enhance the quality of the information. Several tools now exist for estimation of detection probability of birds during counts, including distance sampling, double observer methods, time-depletion (removal) methods, and hybrid methods that combine these approaches. Many counts are conducted in habitats that make auditory detection of birds much more likely than visual detection. As a framework for understanding detection probability during such counts, we propose separating two components of the probability a bird is detected during a count into (1) the probability a bird vocalizes during the count and (2) the probability this vocalization is detected by an observer. In addition, we propose that some measure of the area sampled during a count is necessary for valid inferences about bird populations. This can be done by employing fixed-radius counts or more sophisticated distance-sampling models. We recommend any studies employing point counts be designed to estimate detection probability and to include a measure of the area sampled.
Additional Publication Details
Statistical approaches to the analysis of point count data: A little extra information can go a long way
U. S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station