What Are Bird Point Counts (BPC)?

June 18, 2020
Wildlife Research

Birds are both some of the easiest and toughest animals to study. On the one hand, they are everywhere; every continent has abundant bird species, many of which are gregarious and regularly seen. On the other hand, there are at least 10,000 species of birds in the world and many are shy, rare, or very closely resemble another individual. Therefore, although anyone can watch birds and participate in studying them, it can be challenging to get accurate data about where they live and move. 

One of the ways scientists – and citizens scientists – can take data on birds’ movements and habitats is through a Bird Point Count (BPC). BPCs help researchers take an inventory of the bird species that surround a specific point at a given time of day. By comparing several of these points over time, and using the same methodology, researchers can gather vital information about birds’ habitat preferences and even interactions between species.

What to expect from a point count survey?

Birds can be identified in a point count using both visual and auditory survey methods. Given the close physical similarities between many species, as well as birds’ tendency to fly away and hide, auditory surveys are generally considered to provide a more accurate picture of the species living in the area. 

However, it can take a skilled ornithologist months to learn all of the calls of bird species within an area (or years in a rainforest with 1000+ species), so it can be helpful to bring a team of helpers to listen for specific calls. Even an inexperienced birdwatcher can learn 2-3 calls to aid in one of these surveys, which our naturalists run at several of our tourism and research sites. 

A typical point count survey includes several spots across different habitats – forest, meadow, mountain, etc –  where the surveyors stop and listen (and look!) for ten minutes, noting down every call they hear. If you are new to the area, your naturalist may teach and assign you 2-3 calls to listen for so you can focus on specific species. The group then compares notes to get a full picture of the birds in the area, then moves on to the next point. 

Some point counts may also take place along a transect, either on the water or on a trail, if you can walk easily. A transect is a straight trail that you can follow for a specific distance (usually 1-2 km) and take note of any species you see or hear. This kind of BPC might give less information about specific species’ habitat preferences, but it will expose you to more diversity of bird species as you move through different environments. 

BPC methodology might vary from site to site, or even from ornithologist to ornithologist. However, the most important aspect of this survey is to repeat it consistently using the same methodology over time to get significant results. For example, if you do the survey at 7 AM and 7 PM, three days per week, you should not randomly start taking data at noon to see what you find. These changes will skew results and give you unclear information about birds’ habitat preferences. 

If you have questions about the specific methodology used on your survey on a tour with us, ask your ornithologist! They will be able to explain the method to the madness. If you want to help monitor birds on your next tour, check out our birdwatching tour in Tranyslvania! 

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