Bibby et al.’s (1992) review of bird census techniques opens with the statement that ‘birds are counted for a wide variety of reasons by a bewildering range of methods’. In the southeastern United States, a number of different survey techniques and protocols are used. Some form the foundation of regional, national and international avian monitoring programs, while others have the potential to do so. In order to promote awareness of what programs and protocols are available, this guide summarizes popular, multi-species bird monitoring programs and protocols that are currently used, or could be used, within the Southeast Partners in Flight region. 


Audience - Graduate students and biologists who are looking for ways to collect data that can be analyzed using current methods and are compatible with other data sets in clearinghouses such as the Avian Knowledge Network.


The guide is meant as a starting point for individuals seeking out information to assess the pros and cons of various protocols in addressing their project objectives. In those cases where the protocols are inextricably linked to a broader monitoring program, the program itself (e.g., North American Breeding Bird Survey) and/or the sampling scheme (e.g., Strategic Multi-scale Grassland Bird Population Monitoring) is summarized along with the protocol. Our focus was primarily on those protocols designed to measure abundance and demographic parameters.

The summaries are organized in the following manner. Each one is:

1)  Grouped into either Abundance or Demographic protocol so that it is easier to find and compare alternative options for a given project.

2)  Summarized in terms of:

     a. General overview

     b. Strengths and weaknesses

     c. Examples of how the protocol has been used to advance bird conservation or collaborations

     d. Where to find more information

We have purposefully kept these descriptions short so that they may serve as a quick reference instead of a comprehensive resource. The selection of protocols was based on our experiences; we selected protocols that have provided, or we think have potential to provide, long-term benefits to bird conservation as a science and regional collaboration. Some additional protocols, including “citizen science” programs are listed at the end of the document.

We cannot over-emphasize that, prior to selection of an abundance or demographic protocol, careful thought must be given to establishing a clear purpose, placing monitoring into a decision context, and considering the end users of this information.  Well-designed and executed monitoring programs are essential to informed conservation and management of birds. A few references that may help the reader to clearly define monitoring objectives and sampling frameworks include:



Unfortunately, there is no catch-all monitoring protocol that addresses all biases and error inherent in the process of describing ecological systems or assessing the effects of management and conservation actions.  However, by defining target populations, spatial resolution and extent of inference, and monitoring objectives at the onset of monitoring program development, one can begin to ensure scientific rigor in the monitoring process.  Consulting with a statistician or biometrician early in the process of developing a monitoring program is also an important step in a statistically robust approach to sampling and data analysis. Collection and maintenance of metadata (i.e., data describing data) along with the data is also paramount for data-sharing and facilitating the proper care and use of data over time.


Study objectives should always dictate what, how, where and when to monitor. Other important considerations are where and how to store the data, how the data will be analyzed, and who will make the reports. We have therefore included a section that briefly introduces the topics of Data Storage and Access by describing a few collaborative databases. One advantage of contributing to existing databases is that dedicated expert attention is often provided for the storage, maintenance and access of data sets. Database managers may also provide periodic analysis of the entire data set, and contribute tools that can be used to analyze all or subsets of the data. 


We also provided a short section on Sampling Grids because grids are becoming increasingly popular during the design and analysis phases of field studies. Several grids are already available at a variety of scales, so it is rarely necessary for a project to go through the time and effort of developing new ones. Further, there may be cost-savings and other benefits to using the same grid as other projects. For example, landscape attributes (e.g., elevation, land cover) may have already been determined for grid cells in some areas and be available by request or download.


At the end of this document we provide a list of abundance, demographic, and “citizen science” protocols or programs with links for more information.  Some of these were excluded from full summaries because we felt they did not meet our initial criteria listed above. Others were excluded because we were not aware of them prior to the expert review of this document. However, we wished to mention them in case one or more could be helpful to readers. There are likely many other programs and protocols that are appropriate for this document that we did not include. If you know of one, please contact an author so that we may add it to the document.


Literature cited


Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess and D.A. Hill (1992): Bird Census Techniques. London: Academic Press.