, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 403–411 | Cite as

Summary of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors Affecting Detection Probability of Marsh Birds

  • Courtney J. ConwayEmail author
  • James P. Gibbs


Many species of marsh birds (rails, bitterns, grebes, etc.) rely exclusively on emergent marsh vegetation for all phases of their life cycle, and many organizations have become concerned about the status and persistence of this group of birds. Yet, marsh birds are notoriously difficult to monitor due to their secretive habits. We synthesized the published and unpublished literature and summarized the factors that influence detection probability of secretive marsh birds in North America. Marsh birds are more likely to respond to conspecific than heterospecific calls, and seasonal peak in vocalization probability varies among co-existing species. The effectiveness of morning versus evening surveys varies among species and locations. Vocalization probability appears to be positively correlated with density in breeding Virginia Rails (Rallus limicola), Soras (Porzana carolina), and Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris). Movement of birds toward the broadcast source creates biases when using count data from call-broadcast surveys to estimate population density. Ambient temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, and moon phase affected detection probability in some, but not all, studies. Better estimates of detection probability are needed. We provide recommendations that would help improve future marsh bird survey efforts and a list of 14 priority information and research needs that represent gaps in our current knowledge where future resources are best directed.


Bitterns Call-broadcast Monitoring Rails Tape-playback Vocalization probability 


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Copyright information

© US Government 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, 325 Biological Sciences East, School of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Environmental and Forest BiologyState University of New YorkSyracuseUSA

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