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Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 2002

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Studies of bird populations size by different methodsThis manual describes three procedures for quantitative estimation of bird populations: route, point and constant site (plot) censuses. Included are guidelines for the organization, preparation (establishing a route and site selection), census procedures, record-keeping and data processing.

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 following three types of bird census procedures are applied in most countries of the world:

line transects (route census),

point census and

area mapping (plot census).

All three field study techniques (with associated international criteria) are approved by the International Committee in Bird Census.

Determining which of the three census methods is most appropriate depends on the purpose of study, peculiarities of the study site, season, bird numbers, time availability and labor resources.

The route method is used most often to obtain approximate data on numbers (relative density) of bird populations in different biotopes, when there is small or inconsistent sizes of field study sites and a number of skilled observers. Advantages of the route method include broad coverage of an area and seasonal and habitat universality (census can be carried out in any season and in any habitat).

Disadvantages of the method are low accuracy of data on population density and the need for skilled observers.

Point census is used for regular monitoring of changes in numbers of different (model) species in a highly mosaic landscape and when monitoring is carried out by amateur ornithologists who do not know birds well. Advantages of the method include methodical simplicity of the census technique and low demand on observers’ qualifications. Disadvantages are low accuracy of data on bird population density and the need to adhere precisely to a number of standards in the course of the census.

Area mapping is used when it is necessary to obtain accurate data on absolute numbers (density) of populations of different bird species at a specific study site. Advantages of this method include high accuracy of data on bird populations density and the possibility to conduct simultaneous studies of territorial behavior of birds. Disadvantages of the method include; highly labor-intensive procedure, small sample of field study site studied and limited available time (usually nesting season).

In this lesson students will learn all three census techniques as they implement each strategy simultaneously at the same study site. This approach allows students to each conduct census as well as compare the effectiveness of the strategy, i.e. efficiency, accuracy and labor intensity.

Organization of studies

Census territory

Any forested area is suitable including dense forests, gardens and parks, shrubbery thickets both in mountains and on a plain. Dense forests on steep slopes or completely open space will make these field studies difficult.

It is advised to choose a forest (or a site covered with vegetation) which is minimally disturbed by human activity and which is not less than one square km in size. Route and point censuses require lengthy sites while plot census can be carried out at a limited forested site. We recommend to conducting these studies at the same site where route censuses of birds were carried out in fall (Autumn Lesson #7). It is then possible to compare characteristics of bird populations during non-nesting and nesting seasons.

Preparation for census

Students must be able to recognize bird species by their appearance and singing in the course of any quantitative censuses of birds. Students will be estimating the numbers of birds including birds seen at long distances and birds singing without actually being seen. Students will need to determine the distances to birds and distances covered. Thus, special attention should be paid to training of students while preparing for implementation of the studies.

The most difficult aspect in conducting the bird census is determination of species. We recommend starting practical training for censusing as early as possible. We recommend teaching students to recognize bird songs during the entire spring, during excursions or walks in the forest, or on camping tours. By the end of spring, (the most favorable season for conducting...


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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