Population Surveys

Below are descriptions and links to bird surveys that are coordinated or conducted by the Migratory Bird Program, in partnership with other agencies. These surveys provide information on migratory bird population abundance, distribution, and trends, which are important to harvest and population management. Some of our surveys cover vast regions and long time periods, while others focus on single species in small geographic areas. All of these surveys contribute to our understanding of migratory bird populations, and help us make informed decisions to manage them wisely for future generations.


Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey

This survey is conducted each spring by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Program, state wildlife agencies and the Canadian Wildlife Service to estimate the size of breeding waterfowl populations across North America and to evaluate habitat conditions on the breeding grounds. These surveys are conducted using airplanes, helicopters, and ground crews, and cover over 2.0 million square miles that encompass the principal breeding areas of many species of waterfowl in North America. The traditional survey area comprises parts of Alaska, Canada, and the north-central U.S., and covers approximately 1.3 million square miles. The eastern survey area includes parts of Ontario, Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, New York and Maine, covering an area of approximately 0.7 million square miles. Annual estimates of duck abundance are available since 1955 for the traditional survey area and since 1996 for all strata in the eastern survey area. In the prairies and parklands of the traditional survey area, habitat conditions are recorded using an index of the number of ponds observed by the airplane crew.

Read more about this survey, watch a video, or see aerial and ground crew blogs.

Results of this survey can be found within our Population Status page.

Mid-winter Waterfowl Inventory

These surveys are conducted cooperatively by state wildlife agencies and the Migratory Bird Program to provide an index of waterfowl population abundance during winter. For some goose and duck species, adequate monitoring during the spring and summer is not possible because they nest in areas not well covered by the breeding population surveys. A nationwide effort to survey waterfowl is conducted annually in January, to provide information on population trends, distribution on the wintering grounds, and habitat use for certain waterfowl species. Survey design differs among states, with some states conducting a cruise survey, where crews attempt to count all waterfowl, and others using a transect-based design, where a sample of counts is extrapolated over the survey area.

Results of this survey, including survey coverage maps, can be found on the Migratory Bird Data Center website or within the Flyways page on our website.

Western Gulf Coast Mottled Duck Survey

This experimental survey is used to determine the status of the breeding mottled duck population each year along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. Conducted during early April as a joint effort of the Migratory Bird Program, Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, this survey uses airplanes and helicopters to count mottled ducks along transects within their breeding range in both states. Airplane crews count mottled ducks along transects, while helicopter crews survey a subsample of transects to provide a visibility correction for the airplane counts.

Results of this experimental survey can be found within our Population Status page.

Arctic Geese Surveys

A variety of surveys are conducted each year on breeding, staging, and wintering areas to assess status and trends of goose species and populations. Surveys are conducted by, and in collaboration with, a broad range of Canadian and U.S. Federal and provincial/state agencies and partners. Many of these surveys are funded or conducted through efforts by


Sandhill Crane Surveys

Four populations of sandhill cranes are surveyed each year to estimate breeding population size: the Mid-Continent Population (MCP), in the High Plains U.S.; the Rocky Mountain Population (RMP), in the western U.S.; the Lower Colorado River Valley Population (LCRVP), primarily in northeast Nevada, and the Eastern Population (EP) in the Great Lake, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states. These populations are monitored through breeding and pre-migration surveys to provide information for harvest management. For the MCP, extensive, spring aerial surveys on major concentration areas that are corrected for observer visibility bias provide annual indices of abundance used to measure population trends. These surveys are conducted in late March, at a time when birds that wintered in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas usually have migrated northward to spring staging areas, but before spring "break-up" conditions allow cranes to move into Canada. A fall pre-migration survey is conducted by 5 states (UT, CO, ID, WY, and MT) for the RMP, to avoid counting cranes from other populations that comingle during the spring breeding period. The LCRVP is surveyed in winter by airplane at four major wintering areas in Arizona and California. The EP is surveyed by volunteers and agency personnel at staging areas in the fall to count cranes migrating from Canada. Survey areas include the Great Lakes (MN, WI, MI, OH, PA and IN), the Mid-Atlantic (KY and TN) and the Southeastern states (GA and FL).

Results of these surveys can be found on our sandhill crane page or within the Population Status page.

American Woodcock Singing Ground Survey

The American Woodcock Singing-Ground Survey is conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, state and provincial agencies, and volunteers each spring throughout the woodcock breeding range in the US and Canada. This survey exploits the conspicuous courtship behavior of the male woodcock, which consists of an aerial display and sounds produced by vocalizations and wingbeats during a spiraling, descending flight. Counts of singing male woodcock along numerous routes in the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada provide an index to woodcock abundance, and are used to estimate woodcock population trends for states, provinces, management regions, and the continent. The survey is the major source of information considered in the annual setting of woodcock hunting seasons. These data can also be used to examine the effects of weather, landscape change, and other factors on woodcock population abundance.

Results of this survey can be found on the Migratory Bird Data Center website or within the Population Status page.

Last Updated: July 5, 2016