Constant Effort Sites scheme

The Constant Effort Sites (CES) scheme uses changes in catch sizes across a network of standardised mist-netting sites to monitor changes in the abundance and breeding success of common passerines in scrub and wetland habitats. At each constant effort site, licensed ringers erect a series of mist nets in the same positions, for the same amount of time, during 12 visits evenly spaced between 1 May and 31 August (Peach et al. 1996). Year-to-year changes in the number of adults caught provide a measure of changing population size, while the ratio of young birds to adults in the total catch is used to monitor annual productivity (breeding success). By summing the abundance of young birds between May and August, the CES method should integrate contributions to annual productivity from the entire nesting season, including second and third broods for multi-brooded species, but will also include a small component of mortality during the immediate post-fledging period. More detailed information about analytical methods is given below and were also provided by Peach et al. (1998) (abundance) and Robinson et al. (2007) (productivity). Between-year recaptures of ringed birds are also used to calculate annual survival rates of adult birds using specialised analytical techniques (Peach 1993).

The CES scheme began in 1983 with 46 sites and now has approximately 140. The distribution of CES sites tends to reflect the distribution of ringers within Britain and Ireland. The majority are operated in England, and there are smaller numbers in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. CES routinely monitors the populations of 24 species of passerines in scrub, woodland and reedbed habitats.

Data analysis

Smoothed trends in the abundance of adults and young are separately assessed using a generalised additive model (GAM), with 85% confidence intervals calculated by bootstrapping (Fewster et al. 2000). At sites where catching effort in a year falls below the standard 12 visits, but no more than four visits have been missed, annual catch sizes are corrected according to experience during years with complete coverage, by incorporating an offset into the model (see Peach et al. 1998 for full details). Sites with fewer than eight visits in a given year are omitted for the year in question.

Annual indices of productivity (young per adult) are estimated from logistic regression models applied to the proportions of juvenile birds in the catch, the year-effects then being transformed to measures of productivity relative to an arbitrary value of 100 in the most recent year. As above, catch sizes are corrected where small numbers of visits have been missed. It should be noted that these indices are only relative figures, and are not estimates of the actual numbers of young produced per adult (Robinson et al. 2007).

Annual estimates of adult survival are derived from a form of the standard Cormack–Jolly–Seber capture–mark–recapture model (Lebreton et al. 1992), modified to account for the presence of transient birds. Transients are birds passing through the site, or perhaps living on its periphery, and which therefore have a much lower probability of capture than resident birds living in the vicinity of the net rides. The presence of transients thus tends to decrease the estimated survival rates. We allow for this by introducing an additional 'survival period' in the year of first capture (Hines et al. 2003). As with our other schemes, we assume survival probabilities vary annually in a similar fashion across all sites, though mean survival probabilities may differ between sites. Because of the standardised capture protocol, we assume that recapture probabilities are site-specific, but constant through time. For each bird we also insert an additional period after the first capture, indicating whether the bird was caught subsequently in the same season. The probability of surviving this period can be regarded as the probability that the bird is resident on the site (that is the probability that it is available for recapture). The survival and recapture probabilities for this initial period are assumed constant across years and sites. Note that the annual estimates of annual survival presented are in fact the probability that adult birds return to the same CE site the following year; this will be lower (to a small but unknown extent) than the true survival rate. We do not estimate survival rates for juvenile birds, because of their much greater propensity to disperse.

Data presentation

Abundance and productivity data are presented graphically with a smoothed trend and its 85% confidence limits. No trend is currently fitted to the survival data, but the individual estimates are presented with 95% confidence limits. A caveat is provided for 'Small samples' when the average number of plots per year is between 10 and 20.

Visit the CES section of the BTO website.


This report should be cited as: Massimino, D., Woodward, I.D., Hammond, M.J., Barber, L., Barimore, C., Harris, S.J., Leech, D.I., Noble, D.G., Walker, R.H., Baillie, S.R. & Robinson, R.A. (2020) BirdTrends 2020: trends in numbers, breeding success and survival for UK breeding birds. BTO Research Report 732. BTO, Thetford.