The use of bird counts as indices has come under increasing scrutiny because assumptions concerning detection probabilities may not be met, but there also seems to be some resistance to use of model-based approaches to estimating abundance. We used data from the United States Forest Service, Southern Region bird monitoring program to compare several common approaches for estimating annual abundance or indices and population trends from point-count data. We compared indices of abundance estimated as annual means of counts and from a mixed-Poisson model to abundance estimates from a count-removal model with 3 time intervals and a distance model with 3 distance bands. We compared trend estimates calculated from an autoregressive, exponential model fit to annual abundance estimates from the above methods and also by estimating trend directly by treating year as a continuous covariate in the mixed-Poisson model. We produced estimates for 6 forest songbirds based on an average of 621 and 459 points in 2 physiographic areas from 1997 to 2004. There was strong evidence that detection probabilities varied among species and years. Nevertheless, there was good overall agreement across trend estimates from the 5 methods for 9 of 12 comparisons. In 3 of 12 comparisons, however, patterns in detection probabilities potentially confounded interpretation of uncorrected counts. Estimates of detection probabilities differed greatly between removal and distance models, likely because the methods estimated different components of detection probability and the data collection was not optimally designed for either method. Given that detection probabilities often vary among species, years, and observers investigators should address detection probability in their surveys, whether it be by estimation of probability of detection and abundance, estimation of effects of key covariates when modeling count as an index of abundance, or through design-based methods to standardize these effects.
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Vol. 72 • No. 8