We have a number of talks coming up about our expeditions, register for a talk by clicking here!

Bird Point Count Sampling Techniques

Sampling setup

The bird point count starts early in the morning, just after dawn when the birds are the most active and vocal. We are driven out to our study site and set up our starting point where a recorder and timekeeper will be placed. From this central point, 4 people walk 10 paces out each facing North, West, South, or East respectively. First, a 2-minute period of silence is held to acclimatise the birds to our presence. Then, for 30 minutes, it is the observers’ duties to report every single bird seen within the time period. The recorder in the middle will note down time, species, no. of individuals, and angle and height seen. For any birds heard, the time and angle will be noted down. With us is an experienced ornithologist who can help us with identification, but although this is the first time in this country for most of us, it doesn’t take long to learn a handful of the most common birds in this area.


Photo taken by Ferdie Muller


Identification of birds

When it comes to bird identification, it is easy to get overwhelmed flipping through 600 pages of a guidebook. However, there are a few things to keep in mind which makes identification easier. The initial impression of the bird can tell you a lot. Size and the shape of the body, beak, and tail feathers can often lead you to what family a given bird belongs to. Whereas colour is variable within a bird family, shape is almost always the same. For example: sunbirds are finch-sized with a decurved beak, whereas the kingfishers are about pigeon-size, with a relatively large head, and strong pointed beak. Behavioural clues like flight pattern, feeding and social behaviour can also narrow it down. Bee-eaters have short gliding flights catching insects in the air and sparrows flap a lot in flight and can form large flocks.

Colour patterning is used to identify to a genus or species level. It can often be quite complicated, as certain species may only differ by tiny variations, and many birds have different plumage depending on sex, age, season, or locality. Instead of trying to memorise every detail of the bird, it is easier to pick out one or two key characteristics like the pattern of a wing stripe, and the colour of the beak and breast.

Lastly, learning and distinguishing bird calls can be made easier with memorisation techniques like linking the bird song to a saying or other sound makes them easier to remember. For example, the black-collared barbet goes BLACK-collar-BLACK-collar-BLACK­-collar, and the crested barbet has a long rolling trill that sounds like a frog going Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.



What are point counts used for?

Bird surveys like point counts are great for investigating what species are in an area, and distribution and abundance of each bird species. Point counts are very well suited for areas with dense vegetation and by also sampling birds heard, more cryptic or shy species are included. While it is not possible counting every single bird within an area, point count data combined with environmental data can tell us what habitats each species is found in. This data in turn can be used to predict what species will be found where. Repeated point counts in the same area over long time is key to assessing whether a population is stable.

Birds can also be used as biodiversity indicators, as they are generally more numerous, easily detected, and well-studied than other animal groups. Most birds are also diurnal and can be heard even in dense vegetation. This means birds can be used to easily assess the overall health of an ecosystem. Changes in bird abundance and diversity, in a certain area can tell us whether our agricultural practices, or management techniques like controlled fires are sustainable.


Photo taken by Ben Sadd

View Research Expeditions   View Dissertation Expeditions   View School Expeditions
Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4EX, UK
| +44 (0) 1790 763194 | info@opwall.com