Methods of detecting and counting raptors: A review

Edited by:
C. John Ralph and J. Michael Scott


  • The Publications Warehouse does not have links to digital versions of this publication at this time
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


Most raptors are wide-ranging, secretive, and occur at relatively low densities. These factors, in conjunction with the nocturnal activity of owls, cause the counting of raptors by most standard census and survey efforts to be very time consuming and expensive. This paper reviews the most common methods of detecting and counting raptors. It is hoped that it will be of use to the ever-increasing number of biologists, land-use planners, and managers that must determine the occurrence, density, or population dynamics of raptors. Road counts of fixed station or continuous transect design are often used to sample large areas. Detection of spontaneous or elicited vocalizations, especially those of owls, provides a means of detecting and estimating raptor numbers. Searches for nests are accomplished from foot surveys, observations from automobiles and boats, or from aircraft when nest structures are conspicuous (e.g., Osprey). Knowledge of nest habitat, historic records, and inquiries of local residents are useful for locating nests. Often several of these techniques are combined to help find nest sites. Aerial searches have also been used to locate or count large raptors (e.g., eagles), or those that may be conspicuous in open habitats (e.g., tundra). Counts of birds entering or leaving nest colonies or colonial roosts have been attempted on a limited basis. Results from Christmas Bird Counts have provided an index of the abundance of some species. Trapping and banding generally has proven to be an inefficient method of detecting raptors or estimating their populations. Concentrations of migrants at strategically located points around the world afford the best opportunity to count many rap tors in a relatively short period of time, but the influence of many unquantified variables has inhibited extensive interpretation of these counts. Few data exist to demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods. We believe more research on sampling techniques, rather than complete counts or intensive searches, will provide adequate yet affordable estimates of raptor numbers in addition to providing methods for detecting the presence of raptors on areas of interest to researchers and managers.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Methods of detecting and counting raptors: A review
Series number:
Year Published:
Cooper Ornithological Society
Publisher location:
Lawrence, KS
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
x, 630
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
Estimating Numbers of Terrestrial Birds
First page:
Last page: