Migratory connectivity and annual cycle phenology of Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus) revealed through archival GPS tags

Authors: James Wright et. al.

Year: 2021

Publication: Avian Conservation and Ecology

Publication Link: https://doi.org/10.5751/ACE-01871-160120

Keywords: bird migration; Euphagus carolinus; full annual cycle; habitat use; Icteridae; life-history stages; stopover ecology

Abstract: Understanding spatial and temporal movement patterns of migratory birds throughout the annual cycle can help identify
potential population threats. The behavior and habitat use of birds during migration and stopover periods is particularly understudied
in many species. In this study, we used high spatial resolution archival GPS tags to track Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus) from
one eastern (New Hampshire) and two western (Alaska and Alberta) breeding populations across the annual cycle. We sought to
determine: 1) migratory connectivity of the three distinct populations; 2) migratory phenology, behavior, and time spent during each
phase of the annual cycle; and 3) habitat use of individuals throughout the nonbreeding period. We retrieved 7 tags from 30 tagged
individuals following 1-year deployments. We found that four Alberta individuals overwintered in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, two
Alaska individuals overwintered in either the Great Plains or the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and the single New Hampshire individual
overwintered on the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Length of annual cycle stages varied among individuals, with the combined migratory
periods occupying between 12% and 48% of the annual cycle. Stopover behavior was also widely variable, as minimum convex polygons
of stopovers ranged from < 1 hectare to 505 km² and stopover durations ranged from 1 to 35 days (n = 40 stopovers). Birds predominantly
used woody wetlands and emergent marsh during the nonbreeding period, but habitat use differed between roosting and foraging.
Marshes were used more for nocturnal roosting, whereas woody wetlands were used for diurnal foraging. Our results can help efforts
to conserve this declining species by targeting regions and habitats at specific times of year for management during the nonbreeding
period. In particular, the large amount of time spent during migration periods suggests conservation efforts in stopover regions are
just as important as those on the wintering grounds.

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