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Integrating Breeding Bird Survey and demographic data to estimate Wood Duck population size in the Atlantic Flyway

July 27, 2017

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) uses data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to assist in monitoring and management of some migratory birds. However, BBS analyses provide indices of population change rather than estimates of population size, precluding their use in developing abundance-based objectives and limiting applicability to harvest management. Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are important harvested birds in the Atlantic Flyway (AF) that are difficult to detect during aerial surveys because they prefer forested habitat. We integrated Wood Duck count data from a ground-plot survey in the northeastern U.S. with AF-wide BBS, banding, parts collection, and harvest data to derive estimates of population size for the AF. Overlapping results between the smaller-scale intensive ground-plot survey and the BBS in the northeastern U.S. provided a means for scaling BBS indices to the breeding population size estimates. We applied these scaling factors to BBS results for portions of the AF lacking intensive surveys. Banding data provided estimates of annual survival and harvest rates; the latter, when combined with parts-collection data, provided estimates of recruitment. We used the harvest data to estimate fall population size. Our estimates of breeding population size and variability from the integrated population model (N̄ = 0.99 million, SD = 0.04) were similar to estimates of breeding population size based solely on data from the AF ground-plot surveys and the BBS (N̄ = 1.01 million, SD = 0.04) from 1998 to 2015. Integrating BBS data with other data provided reliable population size estimates for Wood Ducks at a scale useful for harvest and habitat management in the AF, and allowed us to derive estimates of important demographic parameters (e.g., seasonal survival rates, sex ratio) that were not directly informed by data.

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