The scientific credibility of Christmas Bird Count (CBC) results depend on the development and implementation of appropriate methods of statistical analysis. The key to any successful analysis of CBC data is to begin with a careful review of how the limitations of the data are likely to influence the results of the analysis, then to choose methods of analysis that accommodate as much as possible the limitations of the survey. For our analyses of CBC data, we develop a flexible model for effort adjustment and use information from the data to guide the selection of the best model. We include geographic structuring to accommodate the regional variation in number of samples, use a model that allows for overdispersed poisson data appropriate for counts, and employ empirical Bayes procedures to accommodate differences in quality of information in regional summaries. This generalized linear model approach is very flexible, and can be applied to a variety of studies focused on factors influencing wintering bird populations. In particular, the model can be easily modified to contain covariates, allowing for assessment of associations between CBC counts and winter weather, disturbance, and a variety of other environmental factors. These new survey analysis methods have added value in that they provide insights into changes in survey design that can enhance the value of the information. The CBC has been extremely successful as a tool for increasing public interest in birding and bird conservation. Use of the information for bird conservation creates new demands on quality of information, and it is important to maintain a dialogue between users of the information, information needs for the analyses, and survey coordinators and participants. Our work as survey analysts emphasizes the value and limitations of existing data, and provides some indications of what features of the survey could be modified to make the survey a more reliable source of bird population data. Surveys only remain useful if they adapt to current needs, while still maintaining consistency with historical goals.
Additional publication details
Using Christmas Bird Count data in analysis of population change