Monitoring natural populations is often a necessary step to establish the conservation status of species and to help improve management decisions. Nevertheless, many monitoring programs do not effectively address primary sources of variability in monitoring data, which ultimately may limit the utility of monitoring in identifying declines and improving management. To illustrate the importance of taking into account detectability and spatial variation, we used a recently proposed estimator of abundance (superpopulation estimator) to estimate population size of and number of young produced by the Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus) in Florida. During the last decade, primary recovery targets set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Snail Kite that were based on deficient monitoring programs (i.e., uncorrected counts) were close to being met (by simply increasing search effort during count surveys). During that same period, the Snail Kite population declined dramatically (by 55% from 1997 to 2005) and the number of young decreased by 70% between 1992?1998 and 1999?2005. Our results provide a strong practical case in favor of the argument that investing a sufficient amount of time and resources into designing and implementing monitoring programs that carefully address detectability and spatial variation is critical for the conservation of endangered species.