Estimating survival of precocial chicks during the prefledging period using a catch-curve analysis and count-based age-class data

Conor P. McGowan, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Mark R. Ryan, Casey D. Kruse, Greg Pavelka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Estimating reproductive success for birds with precocial young can be difficult because chicks leave nests soon after hatching and individuals or broods can be difficult to track. Researchers often turn to estimating survival during the prefledging period and, though effective, mark-recapture based approaches are not always feasible due to cost, time, and animal welfare concerns. Using a threatened population of Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) that breeds along the Missouri River, we present an approach for estimating chick survival during the prefledging period using long-term (1993-2005), count-based, age-class data. We used a modified catch-curve analysis, and data collected during three 5-day sampling periods near the middle of the breeding season. The approach has several ecological and statistical assumptions and our analyses were designed to minimize the probability of violating those assumptions. For example, limiting the sampling periods to only 5 days gave reasonable assurance that population size was stable during the sampling period. Annual daily survival estimates ranged from 0.825 (SD = 0.03) to 0.931 (0.02) depending on year and sampling period, with these estimates assuming constant survival during the prefledging period and no change in the age structure of the population. The average probability of survival to fledging ranged from 0.126 to 0.188. Our results are similar to other published estimates for this species in similar habitats. This method of estimating chick survival may be useful for a variety of precocial bird species when mark-recapture methods are not feasible and only count-based age class data are available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-87
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Field Ornithology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Catch-curve
  • Charadrius melodus
  • Chick survival
  • Count data
  • Fecundity
  • Piping Plover
  • Reproductive success


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