Are Point Counts of Boreal Songbirds Reliable Proxies for More Intensive Abundance Estimators?

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  • Point counts are often used to provide information on abundance of songbirds. If data from point counts are to be compared in space or time, however, any bias in the estimate should be consistent and linearly related to the true abundance. Several studies have suggested that this assumption may be violated for songbirds. Here, we used double sampling to test whether point counts are linearly related to true abundance, as estimated from spot mapping, for 12 songbird species in the boreal mixed-wood forest of northern Alberta, Canada. We found that total abundance of birds across several point-count stations was positively correlated with the number of territories and confirmed that point counts were linearly related to spot-mapping abundance for the species tested. However, large sampling errors masked this relationship at the scale of a single point-count station (100-m fixed radius plot). Double-sampling models that accounted for differences in abundance between spot-mapping grids using random effects improved prediction for most species. We found no year effect on detectability. Maximum abundance over point count rounds was a more sensitive index of abundance than mean abundance and tended to produce better-fitting models. Point-count abundance was more closely related to true abundance in species with relatively small territories, or those with large spatial or temporal variation in density. Our results further suggest that point count abundance may be proportional to the total length of territorial boundaries in the plot rather than the total fraction of territories in the plot. Our analysis suggests that point counts provide a reasonable index of abundance, even though individual point-count stations are not consistently effective in estimating the density of territorial individuals.

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    This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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    • Toms, J. D., Schmiegelow, F. K. A., Hannon, S. J., & Villard, M.-A. (2006). ARE POINT COUNTS OF BOREAL SONGBIRDS RELIABLE PROXIES FOR MORE INTENSIVE ABUNDANCE ESTIMATORS ? The Auk, 123(2), 438-454.