Estimating a frequency unseen: an example from ornithology

Albers, C.J.; De Roos, G. Th. and Schaafsma, W. (2005). Estimating a frequency unseen: an example from ornithology. Statistica Neerlandica, 59(4) pp. 397–413.




The second author is involved in a capture–mark–recapture study of some wader species. Part of his program deals with resight observations. On a particular day he visually inspects a fairly stable population to identify the ringed birds by reading their ring-number. Some ringed birds will be missed, so observations are repeated on other days. The issue of main interest is whether, after some repetitions, we can be sufficiently sure that all the ringed birds in the population have been identified or, equivalently, that the frequency of unseen birds is zero.

Most current theory is concerned with an asymptotic setting. In our 'exact' context the emphasis is on the determination of the 'probability' that the frequency of unseen birds is zero. This issue is settled by considering the more general problem of 'estimating' the frequency of the unseen birds by providing a predictive inference in the form of a probability distribution. We develop methods of inference based on the assumption of a bird-independent probability pi of identifying a ringed bird on day i, as well as without this assumption. In Section 5 we critically examine these approaches.

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