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Migration stopover ecology of western avian populations: A southwestern migration workshop

January 1, 2004

The importance of migration stopover sites in ensuring that migratory birds successfully accomplish their journeys between breeding and non-breeding ranges has come to the forefront of avian research. Migratory birds that breed in western United States (US) and Canada and overwinter primarily in western Mexico migrate across the arid region of northern Mexico and southwestern US. Many of these migrants use lowland riparian stopover habitats, which comprise less than 0.1% of the western U.S. landscape. These habitats represent a significant conservation priority.

Recognizing the importance of migration stopover habitats in the arid southwest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Region 6 partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to support a project---“Migration stopover ecology of western avian populations: patterns of geographic and habitat distribution.” A primary objective of the project was to convene a workshop for avian researchers, conservation professionals, and land managers involved in stopover needs of migratory birds that breed in western North America. The workshop included presentations on our current state of knowledge regarding passerine migration in western North America, techniques and technologies potentially useful in researching migration, and efforts that agencies and other partners are conducting within the realm of migration. Workshop presentations provided a backdrop for subsequent discussions, the goals of which were to identify research needs and initiate a coordinated approach to research of western migration stopover ecology.

Workshop presentations spanned a wide range of concerns and interests. Highlights included indications that mid- and high-elevation riparian and montane shrubland habitats may be as crucial to western migrants in fall migration as lowland riparian habitats are in spring migration. Comparisons of eastern versus western migration systems elucidated large differences in stopover habitats used and the intensity with which certain types are used, underscoring the potential need to develop separate management approaches for eastern and western stopover sites. Presentations on techniques and technology for migration research revealed that rate of lipid deposition can serve as an indicator of habitat quality; that genetics and stable isotope analyses of feathers can be valuable tools to elucidate linkages between breeding and wintering areas; that radar imagery can be used to track large-scale movement patterns and habitat use; and that there are analytical options for combining multiple sources of information. Other presentations focused on partnership perspectives (USFWS and Sonoran Joint Venture), the genesis of a western migration monitoring network, premises of Coordinated Bird Monitoring, and how collaborative efforts could benefit migration research (e.g., combined bird and bat migration studies; linking avian researchers with fluvial geomorphologists; linking research throughout western North America; linking surveys and banding).

Priority research needs and questions identified during the open discussions fell into three main categories: (1) habitat/landscape/climate relationships, (2) en route bird distribution patterns, and (3) general migration ecology. Tasks within these categories included: define the relative importance of various habitat types to migrants in spring and fall, determine what distinguishes high- from poor-quality stopover habitat; determine geographic patterns of loss in stopover habitats; model landscape attributes associated with species richness and abundance; identify effects of climate change and current climate anomalies on plant phonologies, associated insect flushes, and timing of migration; and determine effects of hydrologic changes on riparian vegetation, food availability, and stopover habitat quality.

Workshop participants discussed a coordinated approach for addressing immediate research needs regarding migration patterns and crucial stopover sites and types. They envisioned a three­-tiered, coordinated approach: (1) long-term research to address effects of climate change and other large-scale patterns, (2) intensive, short-term survey and monitoring efforts using a stratified random design within habitats of interest to elucidate regional patterns of distribution and habitat use, and (3) research conducted at existing survey and banding sites to address more in-depth questions (e.g., rates of lipid deposition, microhabitat use, isotope analyses). There was considerable interest in developing common research proposals to blend the broad expertise represented at this workshop. A second meeting is recommended to build on the momentum of these discussions, to facilitate collaborations, and further the goals of integrated approaches to broadscale research on migration stopover ecology. 

Publication Year 2004
Title Migration stopover ecology of western avian populations: A southwestern migration workshop
DOI 10.3133/ofr20041452
Authors Susan K. Skagen, Cynthia P. Melcher, Rob Hazelwood
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2004-1452
Index ID ofr20041452
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center