Linking Breeding and Wintering Ranges of a Migratory Songbird Using Stable Isotopes

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Science  08 Feb 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5557, pp. 1062-1065
DOI: 10.1126/science.1067124

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We used the natural abundance of stable isotopes (carbon and hydrogen) in the feathers of a neotropical migrant songbird to determine where birds from particular breeding areas spend the winter and the extent to which breeding populations mix in winter quarters. We show that most birds wintering on western Caribbean islands come from the northern portion of the species' North American breeding range, whereas those on more easterly islands are primarily from southern breeding areas. Although segregated by breeding latitude, birds within local wintering areas derive from a wide range of breeding longitudes, indicating considerable population mixing with respect to breeding longitude. These results are useful for assessing the effects of wintering habitat loss on breeding population abundances and for predicting whether the demographic consequences will be concentrated or diffuse.

  • * Present address: Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: drr24{at}

  • Present address: Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

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