An Evaluation of Survey Methods for Estimating Northern Bobwhite Abundance in Southern Texas



Abstract: Distance sampling has been identified as a reliable and well-suited method for estimating northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) density. However, distance sampling using walked transects requires intense sampling to obtain precise estimates, thus making the technique impractical for large acreages. Researchers have addressed this limitation by either resorting to the use of indices (e.g., morning covey-call surveys) or incorporating the use of aerial surveys with distance sampling. Both approaches remain relatively untested. Our objectives were to 1) compare density estimates among morning covey-call surveys, helicopter transects, and walked transects; 2) test a critical assumption of distance sampling pertinent to helicopter surveys (i.e., all objects on line are detected); and 3) evaluate the underlying premise of morning covey-call surveys (i.e., that the no. of calling coveys correlates with bobwhite density). Our study was conducted on 3 study sites in Brooks County, Texas, USA, during October to December, 2001 to 2005. Comparisons between walked transects and morning covey-call surveys involved the entire 5-year data set, whereas helicopter transects involved only the latter 2 years. Density estimates obtained from helicopter transects were similar to walked transect estimates for both years. We documented a detection probability on the helicopter transect line of 70 ± 10.2% (% ± SE; n = 20 coveys). Morning covey-call surveys yielded similar density estimates to walked transect estimates during only 2 of 5 years, when walked transect estimates were the least accurate and precise. We detected a positive relationship (R2 = 0.51; 95% CI for slope: 29.5–53.1; n = 63 observations) between covey density and number of coveys heard calling. We conclude that helicopter transects appear to be a viable alternative to walked transects for estimating density of bobwhites. Morning covey-call surveys appear to be a poor method to estimate absolute abundance and to depict general population trajectories.