Spring migration of Blackpoll Warblers across North America

Authors: Kristen M. Covino, Sara R. Morris, Mark Shieldcastle and Philip D. Taylor

Year: 2020

Publication: Avian Conservation and Ecology

Publication Link: http://www.ace-eco.org/vol15/iss1/art17/

Keywords: banding data; Blackpoll Warbler; phenology; Setophaga striata; spring migration; songbirds

Abstract: The awe-inspiring seasonal migrations of birds between breeding and wintering grounds has long attracted the interest of casual naturalists and professional ornithologists alike. Although new technologies improve our ability to follow individual migrants throughout their annual cycle, the scale and detail provided by banding records remain incredibly valuable. The focus of avian migration studies is often the most physiologically challenging migratory feats that sometimes leaves certain species or seasons relatively understudied. The Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata) is well-known for its transoceanic migratory flight during fall migration, the season in which it is best studied, yet the details of its spring migration are not well known, at least not at a continental scale. Here we use spring migration banding data on over 15,000 Blackpoll Warblers from 28 banding sites across North America to describe the details of the spring migration patterns in this species. Our data, which spans almost 60 years, indicates that Blackpoll Warblers are migrating earlier at a rate of 0.5 days per decade. We also demonstrate an expected protandrous migratory pattern and an unexpected sex-dependent difference in migration speed with females migrating more quickly than males. Our analyses of longitudinal timing patterns reveal that passage through sites west of 85° occurs prior to passage at sites east of 85° and that this difference increases throughout the migratory period, indicating that birds using western sites are migrating faster. Additionally, we provide evidence vis-à-vis analyses of wing length that birds from eastern and western breeding locations mix at lower-latitude migratory sites but their migratory paths diverge as birds proceed north. These results indicate that birds migrating to western breeding sites differ in their migration speed and route thus compensating for the longer migratory distances traveled by western populations of Blackpoll Warblers compared to those breeding in eastern North America.

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