Migratory blackpoll warblers (Setophaga striata) make regional-scale movements that are not oriented toward their migratory goal during fall.

  • July 3, 2017
  • by Brown, J. M., & Taylor, P. D.

Background: Regional scale movement patterns of songbirds are poorly known largely due to difficulties tracking small organisms at broad scales. Using an array of over 100 automated radio telemetry towers, we followed Blackpoll Warblers (Setophaga striata) during fall migration in the Gulf of Maine region, and assessed how their regional scale movement pathways varied with age, distance to natal origin, and capture date.

Results: Many individuals had movement paths that were not oriented towards their migratory goal (‘indirect movement patterns’), regardless of age, distance to natal origin, or time of season. The probability of moving in indirect patterns, and the total tracking duration, decreased with capture date. The extent of indirect movement patterns varied considerably between individuals. Excluding direct flight patterns consistent with traditional migratory movements, adults tended to make more flights and moved in more tortuous patterns than hatch-years. Adults and individuals from more westerly natal origins were more likely to move south-west through time.

Conclusions: A greater proportion of individuals made movements that were not oriented towards the migratory than expected. A decrease in tracking duration with capture date indicates that individuals prioritize time as the season progresses. The shorter, indirect movement patterns may be a more complete representation of ‘reverse migration’ at a barrier or ‘landscape-scale stopovers movements’. The longer distances travelled are inconsistent with expected behaviour, even in front of a barrier. The extent of movement we observed indirectly suggests that flight is not as costly to individuals in a migratory state as is commonly assumed. Since adults were observed to move more than hatch-years, we suggest that the indirect movement patterns we observed are not accidental, and may provide some advantage to the individuals that undertake them.

PUBLICATION AVAILABLE AT: http://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-017-0106-0