Standard nest searching produces a representative sample of nest-site choice and nest productivity
One of the most important assumptions we make in all of ecology research is that the data in our samples are representative of the population we sampled. In the case of nest searching and monitoring, two major goals are to describe nesting habitat characteristics and nest success rates for the population of interest. One of the most frustrating things about nest searching is there never seems to be an answer key; that is, we never get to find out where the nests were that we didn't find. Therefore, we are usually stuck with the critical assumption that the nests we find are representative of all of the nests in the population. During our Golden-winged Warbler demography study, we simultaneously searched for nests using standard searching methods and by monitoring radio-marked adult females.
Sean Peterson is lead author on a paper reporting our findings in Condor: Ecological Applications. In that paper we compared many aspects of nests we found during standard nest searching (n = 111) and nests we found in the same populations by tracking radio-marked females (n = 83). It turns out you can only find things where you look for them and searching in areas where people previously found nests biased our standard searching sample. This "early-successional specialist" songbird nests well into later-successional forest too, but we would have never known without tracking them.