We present a method for estimating density of nesting birds based on double sampling. The approach involves surveying a large sample of plots using a rapid method such as uncorrected point counts, variable circular plot counts, or the recently suggested double-observer method. A subsample of those plots is also surveyed using intensive methods to determine actual density. The ratio of the mean count on those plots (using the rapid method) to the mean actual density (as determined by the intensive searches) is used to adjust results from the rapid method. The approach works well when results from the rapid method are highly correlated with actual density. We illustrate the method with three years of shorebird surveys from the tundra in northern Alaska. In the rapid method, surveyors covered ~10 ha h-1 and surveyed each plot a single time. The intensive surveys involved three thorough searches, required ~3 h ha-1, and took 20% of the study effort. Surveyors using the rapid method detected an average of 79% of birds present. That detection ratio was used to convert the index obtained in the rapid method into an essentially unbiased estimate of density. Trends estimated from several years of data would also be essentially unbiased. Other advantages of double sampling are that (1) the rapid method can be changed as new methods become available, (2) domains can be compared even if detection rates differ, (3) total population size can be estimated, and (4) valuable ancillary information (e.g. nest success) can be obtained on intensive plots with little additional effort. We suggest that double sampling be used to test the assumption that rapid methods, such as variable circular plot and double-observer methods, yield density estimates that are essentially unbiased. The feasibility of implementing double sampling in a range of habitats needs to be evaluated.
Additional publication details
Double sampling to estimate density and population trends in birds