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Retrospective Comparison of the Occurrence and Abundance of Rusty Blackbird in the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories

Author(s): Craig S. Machtans | Steven L. Van Wilgenburg | Lindsay A. Armer | Keith A. Hobson

Journal: Avian Conservation and Ecology
ISSN 1712-6568

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 3;
Date: 2007;
Original page

Keywords: COSEWIC | Euphagus carolinus | Mackenzie Valley | population change | Rusty Blackbird | species at risk.

Rusty Blackbird is listed as a species of “special concern” by the Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada, and has shown steep population declines in recent decades. Forty-five locations with historical survey data from the 1970s in the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada were revisited in 2006 to check for changes in the occurrence or abundance of Rusty Blackbird. Our retrospective analysis revealed a number of analytical challenges for such comparisons that we describe. The number of lakes on which this species occurred does not appear to have declined significantly in the past three decades when a correction for survey duration was applied. The range-wide decline of 5.1%/yr based on Christmas Bird Count data would have resulted in 2006 occupancy at ≈5 lakes. We estimate that with correction this would have increased to ≈26. However, naive or unadjusted analyses with a Chi-squared test showed a significant decline. A simulated resampling of the historical data was performed using a repeatability factor of 62% that was derived from a subset of historical lakes that was visited twice in the 1970s. Only 8 of 13 lakes resurveyed had the same results on both historical visits. Our unadjusted 2006 results are a likely outcome, i.e., a 14.9% chance of finding this result, when this repeatability factor is considered, and the likelihood of no change is higher when our corrected data are considered. The possibility of double counting in the historical data further reduced the likelihood of a large decline in relative abundance. Therefore, Rusty Blackbird occurrence does not appear to have changed significantly in the past 33 yr in the Mackenzie Valley. We conclude with a qualitative discussion that supports the notion that declines in the southern parts of their range may be a large factor in the observed rates of population decline.

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