Controversy has sometimes arisen over whether there is a need to accommodate the limitations of survey design in estimating population change from the count data collected in bird surveys. Analyses of surveys such as the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) can be quite complex; it is natural to ask if the complexity is necessary, or whether the statisticians have run amok. Bart et al. (2003) propose a very simple analysis involving nothing more complicated than simple linear regression, and contrast their approach with model-based procedures. We review the assumptions implicit to their proposed method, and document that these assumptions are unlikely to be valid for surveys such as the BBS. One fundamental limitation of a purely design-based approach is the absence of controls for factors that influence detection of birds at survey sites. We show that failure to model observer effects in survey data leads to substantial bias in estimation of population trends from BBS data for the 20 species that Bart et al. (2003) used as the basis of their simulations. Finally, we note that the simulations presented in Bart et al. (2003) do not provide a useful evaluation of their proposed method, nor do they provide a valid comparison to the estimating- equations alternative they consider.
Additional publication details
Estimating population trends with a linear model: technical comments