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Nat Ecol Evol. 2018 Oct;2(10):1603-1609. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0666-4. Epub 2018 Sep 17.

Seasonal abundance and survival of North America's migratory avifauna determined by weather radar.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
American Bird Conservancy, Washington DC, USA.


Avian migration is one of Earth's largest processes of biomass transport, involving billions of birds. We estimated continental biomass flows of nocturnal avian migrants across the contiguous United States using a network of 143 weather radars. We show that, relative to biomass leaving in autumn, proportionally more biomass returned in spring across the southern United States than across the northern United States. Neotropical migrants apparently achieved higher survival during the combined migration and non-breeding period, despite an average three- to fourfold longer migration distance, compared with a more northern assemblage of mostly temperate-wintering migrants. Additional mortality expected with longer migration distances was probably offset by high survival in the (sub)tropics. Nearctic-Neotropical migrants relying on a 'higher survivorship' life-history strategy may be particularly sensitive to variations in survival on the overwintering grounds, highlighting the need to identify and conserve important non-breeding habitats.

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