Aerial Surveys Do Not Reliably Survey Boreal-nesting Shorebirds


  • Kyle H. Elliott Canadian Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 2310, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 2P7
  • Paul A. Smith National Wildlife Research Centre, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3
  • Victoria H. Johnston Canadian Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 2310, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 2P7



Lesser Yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes, Wilson's Snipe, Gallinago delicata, Solitary Sandpiper, Tringa solitaria, Aerial survey, shorebirds, Northwest Territories


Aerial surveys have been used as a method for surveying boreal-nesting shorebirds, which breed in difficult-to-access terrain; however, the fraction of breeding birds observed from the air is unknown. We investigated rates of detection by conducting simultaneous air and ground surveys for shorebirds at three sites in the boreal forest of the Northwest Territories, Canada, in 2007. Helicopter surveys included both pond-based surveys where the helicopter flew around the perimeter of each wetland and transect-based surveys where observers recorded birds seen on line transects. Ground surveys involved intensive observation, territory mapping and nest searching in 5 km2 of plots over a period of 5-6 weeks. Shorebird densities observed from the helicopter were highest near large bodies of water. No shorebirds were observed over closed forest despite breeding densities on ground surveys being highest in closed forest. Detection rates were very low, varied among species and aerial survey types, and were inconsistent over time. Ground-based observations showed that the shorebirds often did not flush in response to the helicopter passing overhead. Owing to poor rates of detection, we conclude that helicopter surveys are not an appropriate method for surveying breeding shorebirds in boreal habitats, but may have some utility for monitoring birds' use of stop-over locations.