Monday, November 19, 2018

Estimating the breeding population of black-billed gulls Larus bulleri in New Zealand, and methods for future count surveys

TitleEstimating the breeding population of black-billed gulls Larus bulleri in New Zealand, and methods for future count surveys
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsMischler, CP
Type of ArticleFull article
Keywordsaerial, black-billed gulls, census, correction factor, ground count, Larus bulleri, nest, observer, river birds

A national census of breeding black-billed gulls (Larus bulleri) conducted across New Zealand in 1995‒98 estimated 48,000 nests, however the methodology used was unclear. In 2013, the New Zealand threat status for the endemic black-billed gulls was changed to Nationally Critical, based on estimates of recruitment failure causing population decline. To inform future threat classification, the breeding population was re-estimated using aerial surveys to locate, photograph, and count breeding black-billed gulls across New Zealand in 2014‒2016. Large spatial gaps in nest count data during 2014/15 and 2015/16 did not allow for annual variability to be taken into account across the 3 seasons, but the 2016/17 survey successfully covered the entire country. Ground counts of nests were conducted at 16 colonies to determine a correction factor of 0.90 to apply to aerial photograph counts of apparently occupied nests. A total of 60,256 nests were found, with 33,703 nests in Southland and 20,675 nests in Canterbury. The North Island was surveyed on the ground and had 992 nests. Historical survey methods were reviewed, highlighting the inaccuracies of using nest densities or applying factors of gulls/nest to total bird counts based on photographs, as well as only counting individual birds on aerial photographs. Historical data likely overestimated numbers of breeding birds, and the inconsistencies of previous surveys make trend analyses difficult. Key recommendations for future counts include: (i) carrying out ground surveys before flights to determine the breeding stage of birds and hence the optimal time to fly; (ii) taking high resolution and zoomed in photos; (iii) carrying out ground nest counts immediately after flights to determine a correction factor; and (iv) using the same observers for all counts to maintain consistency.

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