• bias correction;
  • detection probability;
  • elk;
  • group size;
  • Michigan;
  • population estimate;
  • sightability models

ABSTRACT  Sightability models have been used to estimate population size of many wildlife species; however, a limitation of these models is an assumption that groups of animals observed and counted during aerial surveys are enumerated completely. Replacing these unknown counts with maximum observed counts, as is typically done, produces population size estimates that are negatively biased. This bias can be substantial depending on the degree of undercounting occurring. We first investigated a method-of-moments estimator of group sizes. We then defined a population size estimator using the method-of-moments estimator of group sizes in place of maximum counts in the traditional sightability models, thereby correcting for bias associated with undercounting group size. We also provide associated equations for calculating the variance of our estimator. This estimator is an improvement over existing sightability model techniques because it significantly reduces bias, and variance estimates provide near nominal confidence interval coverage. The data needed for this estimator can be easily collected and implemented by wildlife managers with a field crew of only 3 individuals and little additional flight or personnel time beyond the normal requirements for developing sightability models.