Comparison of removal-based methods for estimating abundance of five species of prairie songbirds

Jessie D. Golding, Victoria J. Dreitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Estimating species abundance is important for land managers, especially for monitoring conservation efforts. The two main survey methods for estimating avian abundance are point counts and transects. Previous comparisons of these two methods have either been limited to a single species or have not included detection probability. During the 2012 breeding season, we compared and assessed the efficiency (precision for amount of effort) of point count time of detection (PCTD) and dependent double-observer transect (TRMO) methods based on detection probabilities and abundance estimates of five species of songbirds that use a range of habitats in a prairie system in Montana dominated by sagebrush and grassland vegetation. Our focal species included Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus), a generalist species found in both shrub and grassland habitat, shrub-obligate Brewer's Sparrows (Spizella breweri), and McCown's Longspurs (Rhynchophanes mccownii), Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris), and Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta), three species of grassland obligates that prefer different grass heights. Detection probabilities were significantly higher for TRMO surveys, with less variation for all five species and differences most pronounced for Brewer's Sparrows and Horned Larks. PCTD surveys required less field effort (~8–20 fewer people minutes per plot) than TRMO surveys because the TRMO surveys required two people. However, time spent on TRMO surveys provided between 0.38 and 87 times more precision per people minute than PCTD surveys. Our results suggest that TRMO surveys provide a more efficient (measured as time spent per unit of standard error) field-based technique in sagebrush prairie systems for the species we investigated, resulting in more precise detection and abundance estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-426
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Field Ornithology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • avian monitoring
  • dependent double-observer
  • grassland
  • point count
  • removal model
  • sagebrush
  • transect


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