Currently the operational analysis of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data by the National Biological Service accounts for observer differences in estimating the trend for each route but within-observer differences are not modeled. We tested for the existence of a form of within-observer differences in skill level: a change in ability to count birds of a given species after an observer's first year on a given route. An increase in ability could positively bias the trend estimate. Removal of an observer's first year of observation on each route for the period 1966-91 resulted in lower average unweighted trend estimates for 415 of 459 species (90%). These reductions were statistically significant for 213 species (46%). The average reduction in trend was 1.8 percent change per yr (SD = 5.4 percent change per yr). In route-regression analysis, route data are weighted by a measure of precision. Removing first-year observer counts reduced the weighted trend estimate for 275 of 416 species (66%), but differences were generally small.
Additional publication details
First-time observer effects in the North American Breeding Bird Survey