It is difficult to survey crevice-nesting seabirds because nest-sites are hard to identify and count, and the number of adult birds attending a colony can be extremely variable within and between days. There is no standardized method for surveying crevice-nesting horned puffins (Fratercula corniculata), and consequently little is known about abundance or changes in their numbers. We examined the variability in colony attendance of horned puffins at 5 breeding colonies in the North Pacific to assess whether variation in count data can be reduced to a level that would allow us to detect changes in the number of birds attending a colony. We used within-year measures of variation in attendance to examine the power to detect a change in numbers between 2 years, and we used measures of among-year variation to examine the power to detect trends over multiple years. Diurnal patterns of attendance differed among colonies, and among-day variation in attendance was generally lowest from mid- to late-incubation to early chick rearing. Within-year variation in water counts was lower than in land counts, and variation was lower using a daily index based on 5 counts per day than it was using 1 count per day. Measures of among-year variation in attendance also were higher for land-based than water-based counts, and they were higher when we used a 10-day survey period than when we used a 30-day period. The use of either 1 or 5 counts a day during the colony-specific diurnal peak of attendance had little influence on levels of among-year variation. Overall, our study suggests that variation in count data may be reduced to a level that allows detection of trends in numbers. However, more studies of interannual variability in horned puffin attendance are needed. Further, the relationship between count data and breeding population size needs more study before the number of birds present at the colony can be used with confidence as an index of population trend.
Additional publication details
Variability in colony attendance of crevice-nesting horned puffins: Implications for population monitoring