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Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Study of species composition and census of birds using the line transect-counting methodThis manual contains a simplified procedure of line-transect census of birds, which includes line-transect selection, technique for line-transect counting and field diary record keeping. It also includes the estimation of bird population density based on the line-transect count results.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


The essence of this research is for students to conduct line-transect counts of birds with further estimation of each species' density per one square unit (square kilometer) in the selected habitat. During autumn, this study is not difficult to carry out because birds' biodiversity and their number in this season are usually not great (at least in the forest zone).

Before starting the count, a habitat should be selected where the counting will take place. A light thin forest habitat not less than 1 square kilometer is recommended for best results.

There are several methods of bird counting used in zoogeographical and ornithological studies today. They differ in complexity and accuracy of real density estimations.

The methods can be divided into three large groups: site, point and line-transect. Site and point methods of counting are mainly used during the nesting period, whereas line-transect methods are used for surveys of large areas and all round the year. The line-transect count is used in this procedure.

In this procedure the counter (recorder) has to be able to determine birds according to their appearance and voice, estimate the number of specimens encountered (including specimens at large distances based on their voices only), to estimate width of the counting band and the covered distance.

Studies of birds such as this allow for comparison of different areas, assessing human impact on birds, and revealing the peculiarities of seasonal dynamics of bird populations. Experience using this procedure will help you to conduct more complicated future studies.


General information

The procedure is quite simple: a counter (or counters) move along the line-transect and records all meetings with birds, determining their species, number of specimens and approximate distance from the counter to the birds. Distance covered is also measured, either on a map or by counting paces.

The most difficult part of this procedure is species determination. It is recommended that line transect counts be started after, or in conjunction with bird identification education. With proper tools such as filed guides and bird voice recordings, anyone can learn to identify species.

Laying down line-transects for counting

This method of line transect is useful for areas that are not familiar to the researcher. The line-transect should be laid along a straight or a slight curve (for example, along a forest road). Circular line-transects are also possible, but in this case their diameter (or perimeter of the studied area) should be greater than 1 km.

It is not recommended to lay line-transects along the borders of biotopes along the forest edge of boundaries of different forest types. Count results for such line-transects will be distorted. This method is not accurate for areas less than 0.5 square kilometers.

Technique for line-transect counting

The observer should record all birds encountered, regardless of their distance from the observer. This includes birds seen and heard. Speed of movement should be slow enough so that the observer will register the sound signals of birds with certainty. At the same time, extra stops should be avoided. The observer should not stop and listen in between bird encounters because it can to overestimation of bird numbers. The researcher should walk at an average speed of 2 – 2.5 kph.

A count should be conducted by a small group of students: not more than three people (so they do not interfere with each other and do not make much noise). Counts should be conducted in the morning in the absence of strong wind, rain or snowfall, that decrease bird’s activity and counter’s ability to hear natural sounds.

Records in the field diary

Before counting, the following information should be recorded in the field diary:

1. Location of the counting line-transect (administrative position and the nearest human settlement).

2. Weather conditions (cloudiness, temperature, wind occurrence, depth of snow cover, and occurrence...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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