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Publication Date


Publication Title

Ecological Applications


Department of Biological Sciences


Migratory bird needs must be met during four phases of the year: breeding season, fall migration, wintering, and spring migration; thus, management may be needed during all four phases. The bulk of research and management has focused on the breeding season, although several issues remain unsettled, including the spatial extent of habitat influences on fitness and the importance of habitat on the breeding grounds used after breeding. Although detailed investigations have shed light on the ecology and population dynamics of a few avian species, knowledge is sketchy for most species. Replication of comprehensive studies is needed for multiple species across a range of areas.

Information deficiencies are even greater during the wintering season, when birds require sites that provide security and food resources needed for survival and developing nutrient reserves for spring migration and, possibly, reproduction. Research is needed on many species simply to identify geographic distributions, wintering sites, habitat use, and basic ecology. Studies are complicated, however, by the mobility of birds and by sexual segregation during winter. Stable-isotope methodology has offered an opportunity to identify linkages between breeding and wintering sites, which facilitates understanding the complete annual cycle of birds.

The twice-annual migrations are the poorest-understood events in a bird's life. Migration has always been a risky undertaking, with such anthropogenic features as tall buildings, towers, and wind generators adding to the risk. Species such as woodland specialists migrating through eastern North America have numerous options for pausing during migration to replenish nutrients, but some species depend on limited stopover locations. Research needs for migration include identifying pathways and timetables of migration, quality and distribution of habitats, threats posed by towers and other tall structures, and any bottlenecks for migration.

Issues such as human population growth, acid deposition, climate change, and exotic diseases are global concerns with uncertain consequences to migratory birds and even less-certain remedies. Despite enormous gaps in our understanding of these birds, research, much of it occurring in the past 30 years, has provided sufficient information to make intelligent conservation efforts but needs to expand to handle future challenges.



Original Citation

Faaborg J, Holmes RT, Anders AD, Bildstein KL, Dugger KM, Gauthreaux SA Jr, Heglund P, Hobson KA, Jahn AE, Johnson DH, Latta SC, Levey DJ 2nd, Marra PP, Merkord CL, Nol E, Rothstein SI, Sherry TW, Sillett TS, Thompson FR 3rd, Warnock N. Conserving migratory land birds in the new world: do we know enough? Ecol Appl. 2010 Mar;20(2):398-418. doi: 10.1890/09-0397.1. PMID: 20405795.