Evaluation of three methods to estimate density and detectability from roadside point counts

Les D. Murray, Robert J. Gates, R. Manuel Spinola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Roadside point counts are often used to estimate trends of bird populations. The use of aural counts of birds without adjustment for detection probability, however, can lead to incorrect population trend estimates. We compared precision of estimates of density and detectability of whistling northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) using distance sampling, independent double-observer, and removal methods from roadside surveys. Two observers independently recorded each whistling bird heard, distance from the observer, and time of first detection at 362 call-count stops in Ohio. We examined models that included covariates for year and observer effects for each method and distance from observer effects for the double-observer and removal methods using Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC). The best model of detectability from distance sampling included observer and year effects. The best models from the removal and double-observer techniques included observer and distance effects. All 3 methods provided precise estimates of detection probability (CV=2.4-4.4%) with a range of detectability of 0.44-0.95 for a 6-min survey. Density estimates from double-observer surveys had the lowest coefficient of variation (2005=3.2%, 2006=1.7%), but the removal method also provided precise estimates of density (2005 CV=3.4%, 2006 CV=4.8%), and density estimates from distance sampling were less precise (2005 CV=9.6%, 2006 CV=7.9%). Assumptions of distance sampling were violated in our study because probability of detecting bobwhites near the observer was <1 or the roadside survey points were not randomly distributed with respect to the birds. Distances also were not consistently recorded by individual members of observer pairs. Although double-observer surveys provided more precise estimates, we recommend using the removal method to estimate detectability and abundance of bobwhites. The removal method provided precise estimates of density and detection probability and requires half the personnel time as double-observer surveys. Furthermore, the likelihood of meeting model assumptions is higher for the removal survey than with independent double-observers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1072-1081
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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