Migratory songbirds in North America are declining at alarming rates.
For conservation efforts to succeed, researchers need to know where the songbirds go and what challenges they face during their annual migration to Latin America and back.
The overwintering locations could hold the key to the birds’ rapidly declining populations.
Migratory Songbirds Outfitted with Tracking Devices
Researchers at the Ohio State University used 149 geolocators, which are tiny tracking devices that pinpoint a bird’s location to trace the migration patterns of Prothonotary Warblers.
The researchers captured birds at their eastern U.S. nesting sites and attached the locators before the birds left for Latin America.
When the birds returned, the researchers recovered 34 locators.
Trackers Reveal Stopover Sites
The data revealed that the majority of warblers congregated to a small area of northern Colombia.
They used the same two major stopover sites in Central America along the way to their winter destination.
Many of the birds wintered in inland areas.
This was surprising since past research shows that the birds prefer coastal mangrove habitats.
Deforestation and sociopolitical changes currently threaten the bird’s Colombia habitat.
Focusing Conservation Efforts for Migratory Songbirds
Knowing where the birds migrate to can help focus conservation efforts to specific areas most at risk of habitat declines.
“The most surprising thing about the results was the overwhelming importance of Colombia to this species,” says Christopher Tonra, the leader of the study.
“We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of migratory connectivity, but we never expected that nearly every bird would use the same wintering region.”
Tonra says this research provides a clear conservation message and shows the power of geolocators in addressing gaps in the researcher’s knowledge of migratory songbirds.
Read the findings of this research in The Condor: Ornithological Applications journal.