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Birds and railways: an ornithological study through the train window


Author/s: Enrique Murgui Pérez

This paper explores the suitability of railway travels in order to obtain reliable information on bird fauna and investigates how such information could be employed for scientific purposes. The study was carried out in the railway Valencia­Utiel (Comunidad Valenciana, Spain) between Xirivella and Buñol railway stations (40 km. apart).
From April 2012 to March 2014 a weekly trip summarizing one hundred visits was made between 8.15 to 9.00 a.m. We recorded 16899 birds belonging to 57 species. Most of the bird species were associated to farmland being the species associated to woodland relatively rare, a situation that reflected quite exactly the distribution of habitats along the railway. Results indicated that travelling by train is possible to obtain a quite accurate view of the composition of bird communities, and a reliable estimate of the abundance of conspicuous bird species. Nevertheless, the abundance of very small bird species and those associated to the tree or the shrub layer was underestimated. The correction of these shortcomings, due to bias in detectability, is difficult insofar the main feature of censusing from the train is the fleetingness of sightings and the lack of the information provided by the songs and calls of birds. Therefore, the results indicate that this is not a reliable method to compare the abundance across species or sites. However comparisons across time periods would be feasible and the most promising use of bird data generated in railway travels would be to obtain long­term trends of bird populations, especially if a proper temporal and spatial coverage were reached. This information could complement other bird monitoring programs at national scale carried out in Spain and in other countries, bringing us useful information for science and bird conservation.

Keywords: Biological Monitoring, Bird Censuses, Citizen Science, Population Trends, Railway, Seasonality, Species Richness.

Publication: Vía Libre Railway Research Nº 8 - November 2014, pp. 9-22


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