Recent advances in the methods used to estimate detection probability during point counts suggest that the detection process is shaped by the types of cues available to observers. For example, models of the detection process based on distance-sampling or time-of-detection methods may yield different results for auditory versus visual cues because of differences in the factors that affect the transmission of these cues from a bird to an observer or differences in an observer's ability to localize cues. Previous studies suggest that auditory detections predominate in forested habitats, but it is not clear how often observers hear birds prior to detecting them visually. We hypothesized that auditory cues might be even more important than previously reported, so we conducted an experiment in a forested habitat in North Carolina that allowed us to better separate auditory and visual detections. Three teams of three observers each performed simultaneous 3-min unlimited-radius point counts at 30 points in a mixed-hardwood forest. One team member could see, but not hear birds, one could hear, but not see, and the third was nonhandicapped. Of the total number of birds detected, 2.9% were detected by deafened observers, 75.1% by blinded observers, and 78.2% by nonhandicapped observers. Detections by blinded and nonhandicapped observers were the same only 54% of the time. Our results suggest that the detection of birds in forest habitats is almost entirely by auditory cues. Because many factors affect the probability that observers will detect auditory cues, the accuracy and precision of avian point count estimates are likely lower than assumed by most field ornithologists. ?? 2009 Association of Field Ornithologists.
Additional publication details
Testing the importance of auditory detections in avian point counts