Yearly temperature fluctuations and survey speed influence road counts of wintering raptors

By: , and 



Globally, evaluation of population trends is the most pressing research need for many species of conservation concern. Road counts for birds of prey are useful for monitoring long‐term population trends and examining year‐to‐year variations in abundance. We examined data from 2155 road surveys conducted from 2001 to 2018 by community scientists who recorded > 85 000 individuals of 14 species of raptors while participating in the Pennsylvania Winter Raptor Survey, in Pennsylvania, USA. We estimated abundance and population growth rates while accounting for observation error by using dynamic Bayesian state‐space models. Model estimates indicated that counts of wintering Bald Eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Red‐shouldered Hawks Buteo lineatus and Black Vulture Coragyps atratus increased over the course of the study. Counts of Rough‐legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus, Red‐tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis, Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius, Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura and American Kestrel Falco sparverius varied more (CV > 5.0) over the duration of the study than other species did. Higher winter temperatures were associated with increases in counts of species whose local populations are partially migratory (American Kestrel and Red‐tailed Hawk), and with lower counts of a long‐distance arctic migrant – Rough‐legged Buzzard. Counts of these species were therefore correlated such that more American Kestrels and Red‐tailed Hawks were counted during years when Rough‐legged Buzzards were less frequently seen. Generally, the number of individuals counted declined as survey speed increased. A general rule for road counts therefore seems to be ‘slower is better’, consistent with past recommendations that observers travel at a speed < 40 km/h during road counts. Our study highlights the utility of road surveys and advances analytical approaches to monitor raptors.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Yearly temperature fluctuations and survey speed influence road counts of wintering raptors
Series title Ibis
DOI 10.1111/ibi.12914
Volume 163
Issue 2
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 593
Last page 606
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