UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Migration ecology of western gray catbirds Mancuso, Kristen A.; Fylling, Megan A; Bishop, Christine A; Hodges, Karen E.; Lancaster, Michael B; Stone, Katharine R


Background: For many songbirds in North America, we lack movement details about the full annual cycle, notably outside the breeding season. Understanding how populations are linked spatially between breeding and overwintering periods (migratory connectivity) is crucial to songbird conservation and management. We assessed migratory connectivity for 2 breeding populations of Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) west of and within the Rocky Mountains by determining migration routes, stopover sites, and overwintering locations. Additionally, we compared apparent annual survivorship for both populations. Methods: We deployed 39 archival light-level geolocators and 21 Global Positioning System (GPS) tags on catbirds in the South Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, and 32 geolocators and 52 GPS tags in the Bitterroot River Valley, Montana, USA. These devices allowed us to determine migration routes, stopover sites, overwintering locations, and migratory connectivity. Migratory connectivity was quantified using Mantel’s correlation. We used mark-recapture of colour banded catbirds in both sites to estimate apparent annual survivorship. Results: We retrieved 6 geolocators and 19 GPS tags with usable data. Gray Catbirds from both populations passed through the Rocky Mountains eastward before heading south towards their overwintering locations in northeastern Mexico and Texas. Stopover sites during fall migration occurred primarily in Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Overwintering locations spanned Texas and 5 states in northeastern Mexico. Individual catbirds used up to 4 distinct sites during the overwintering period. Catbirds separated by almost 500 km during the breeding season overlapped during the non-breeding season, suggesting weak migratory connectivity among western populations (Mantel’s correlation = 0.013, P-value = 0.41). Catbird apparent annual survivorship estimates were higher in British Columbia (0.61 ± 0.06 females; 0.64 ± 0.05 males) than in Montana (0.34 ± 0.05 females; 0.43 ± 0.04 males), though the main driver of these differences remain unclear. Conclusions: Our results provide high precision geographic details during the breeding, migration, and overwintering phases of the annual cycle for western Gray Catbirds. Notably, we found that western catbirds followed the Central Flyway as opposed to the Pacific Flyway. We document that catbirds used multiple sites over winter, contrary to the popular belief that this phase of the annual cycle is stationary for most songbirds.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)