Survey methods for seabirds at their breeding colonies


Fieldwork for the Seabird Monitoring Programme is carried out according to the methods specified in the Seabird Monitoring Handbook for Britain and Ireland (Walsh et al., 1995).
Monitoring Handbook
Download the Seabird Monitoring Handbook for free or buy a hard copy. Both versions contain essentially the same information although the free download has lower quality illustrations. (Note: contact addresses in the monitoring handbook are now out of date; please contact us in the first instance).

The Handbook aims to summarise recommended methods for collecting basic information on breeding numbers, population changes, and breeding success. However, it is also important to monitor other population parameters such as adult survival rates, diet, rate of food-delivery to chicks, or growth-rates of chicks.  The methods required for monitoring survival rates, in particular, are too labour-intensive for widespread use so such data is only collected at a limited number of geographically dispersed colonies.  A future edition may cover methods for collecting such data but at present guidance on relevant methods can be obtained from the compilers.


As well as species specific survey methodology the Handbook also provides general guidance on sampling and census methods, time and geographical scales for monitoring, recommended counting dates (often specific to a group of species), simple statistical methods, safety issues and basic legal advice.


Although the methods presented here deal only with assessment of population sizes, population changes, and the numbers of chicks produced by breeding pairs, such data may be combined with the results from other studies (e.g. seabird survival rates, seabird diet, predation, fish stocks) to assess why seabird numbers have changed, how might they change in future, or what factors influence breeding success.


Methods for surveying storm petrels


The storm petrels (European storm petrel Hydrobates pelagicus and Leach's storm petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa) are particularly difficult to survey, due to their nocturnal, burrowing habits. Please contact a member of the breeding seabird team for advice.