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Many long-distance migratory birds use habitats that are scattered across continents and confront hazards throughout the annual cycle that may be population-limiting. Identifying where and when populations spend their time is fundamental to effective management. We tracked 34 adult whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) from two breeding populations (Mackenzie Delta and Hudson Bay) with satellite transmitters to document the structure of their annual cycles. The two populations differed in their use of migratory pathways and their seasonal schedules. Mackenzie Delta whimbrels made long (22,800 km) loop migrations with different autumn and spring routes. Hudson Bay whimbrels made shorter (17,500 km) and more direct migrations along the same route during autumn and spring. The two populations overlap on the winter grounds and within one spring staging area. Mackenzie Delta whimbrels left the breeding ground, arrived on winter grounds, left winter grounds and arrived on spring staging areas earlier compared to whimbrels from Hudson Bay. For both populations, migration speed was significantly higher during spring compared to autumn migration. Faster migration was achieved by having fewer and shorter stopovers en route. We identified five migratory staging areas including four that were used during autumn and two that were used during spring. Whimbrels tracked for multiple years had high (98%) fidelity to staging areas. We documented dozens of locations where birds stopped for short periods along nearly all migration routes. The consistent use of very few staging areas suggests that these areas are integral to the annual cycle of both populations and have high conservation value.
Watts, B. D.; Smith, F.; Hines, C.; Duval, L.; and al., et, The Annual Cycle for Whimbrel Populations using the Western Atlantic Flyway (2021). PLoS ONE, 16(12).