The below listed research required a collaboration of people. I am very honored to be one of them.


Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Continent-wide Tracking to Determine Migratory Connectivity and Tropical Habitat Associations of a Declining Aerial Insectivore 

279(1749) · October 2012


North American birds that feed on flying insects are experiencing steep population declines, particularly long-distance migratory populations in the northern breeding range. We determine, for the first time, the level of migratory connectivity across the range of a songbird using direct tracking of individuals, and test whether declining northern populations have higher exposure to agricultural landscapes at their non-breeding grounds in South America. We used light-level geolocators to track purple martins, Progne subis, originating from North American breeding populations, coast-to-coast (n = 95 individuals). We show that breeding populations of the eastern subspecies, P. s. subis, that are separated by ca. 2000 km, nevertheless have almost completely overlapping non-breeding ranges in Brazil. Most (76%) P. s. subis overwintered in northern Brazil near the Amazon River, not in the agricultural landscape of southern Brazil. Individual non-breeding sites had an average of 91 per cent forest and only 4 per cent agricultural ground cover within a 50 km radius, and birds originating from declining northern breeding populations were not more exposed to agricultural landscapes than stable southern breeding populations. Our results show that differences in wintering location and habitat do not explain recent trends in breeding population declines in this species, and instead northern populations may be constrained in their ability to respond to climate change.


Consistent Range-wide Pattern in Fall Migration Strategy of Purple Martin (Progne subis), Despite Different Migration Routes at the Gulf of Mexico (Click the link at the bottom of the page to view the article)

130(2):291-296 · April 2013


The migration rate of Nearctic-Neotropic songbirds is expected to be influenced by whether the route is around or across migration barriers such as the Gulf of Mexico. To examine factors that influence fall migration strategies, we used light-level geolocators to track the journeys of 91 Purple Martins (Progne subis) originating from breeding colonies across the eastern range of the species. We expected individuals that crossed the Gulf of Mexico to have slower migration rates, and more stopover days in Central America to refuel after the crossing, than birds that took routes around the gulf. Owing to expected variability in conditions experienced by individuals en route, we anticipated that departure date would be a poor predictor of arrival date within and among populations. Despite widely separated breeding origins, one-way journeys of >7,000 km, and high variability in departure dates and routes, individuals showed a strikingly similar fall migration strategy. Fall migration featured a rapid (450 km day(-1)) initial migration covering >= 2,000 km, followed by prolonged stopovers and a slower rate of travel before the birds continued to South America. Contrary to predictions, route explained little of the variation in the overall migration rate or the rate to Central America. Stopover duration in Central America was unrelated to whether birds crossed or circumnavigated the Gulf of Mexico. As expected, breeding location (primarily longitude) was the strongest predictor of the routes that birds took at this barrier. Within-breeding-region departure date alone predicted much of the variation in arrival date at the first winter roost, but route was not a significant factor. Our results reveal a consistent range-wide pattern in fall migration strategy, with route and migration timing predicting little of the variation in rate or stopover duration.


A Trans-Hemispheric Migratory Songbird Does Not Advance Spring Schedules or Increase Migration Rate inResponse to Record-Setting Temperatures at Breeding Sites8(5):e64587 · May 2013


The decline of long distance migratory songbirds has been linked to an increasing mismatch between spring arrival date and timing of food availability caused by climate change. It is unclear to what extent individuals can adjust migration timing or en route rate in response to annual variation in temperature at breeding sites. We tracked the ca. 7300 km spring migration of 52 purple martins Progne subis from the Amazon basin to two breeding sites in eastern North America. Spring 2012 was the warmest on record in eastern North America, but contrary to predictions, this did not result in earlier departure, faster migration, or earlier arrival at breeding areas compared with earlier years. Temperatures and rainfall in the Amazon basin at the time of departure were not higher in 2012, and conditions along migration routes did not give consistent signals of a warmer spring at the breeding site. Once in North America, individuals likely had limited opportunity to speed up their migration because this final portion of the journey was already very rapid (570 km/d; 4-5 d in duration). Migration timing over the entire journey was best predicted by breeding latitude and sex and was not sensitive to ecological cues (temperature and rainfall amount) at departure from South American overwintering sites or en route, in contrast to recent studies of other songbirds. Our results provide the first direct evidence for a mismatch between higher spring temperatures at breeding sites and departure schedules of individual songbirds, and suggest phenotypic responses to short-term climatic warming may be limited for some species. Further direct-tracking data with greater geographic and temporal scope is needed to test for individual plasticity in response to temperature and rainfall along migratory routes for this, and other, species.

Journal of Ornithology

Migratory stopover timing is predicted by breeding latitude, not habitat quality, in a long-distance migratory songbird

July 2017, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 745–752


The timing of migration can have important survival impacts, as birds must synchronize their movements with favourable environmental conditions to reach their destination. The timing of arrival at and duration of migratory stopover may be largely governed by environmental conditions experienced en route as well as by endogenous factors, but our understanding of these processes is limited. We used light-level geolocators to collect start-to-finish spatio-temporal migration data for a declining aerial insectivore, the Purple Martin (Progne subis), that travels seasonally between North and South America. Using data obtained for birds originating from range-wide breeding populations, our objectives were to test intrinsic and extrinsic hypotheses for migration stopover duration as well as to identify important stopover regions during fall migration. We examined whether breeding latitude, fall migration timing, age, sex or habitat quality at stopover sites (measured using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) influenced the duration of stopovers. We found that most individuals rely on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Honduras, and Nicaragua for stopovers during fall migration, where duration ranged from 1 to 36 days (average 6.8 ± 8.2). Stopovers in these regions were later and of longer duration for more northern breeding populations. Only breeding latitude predicted stopover duration, and not habitat quality at stopovers, lending support to the hypothesis that duration is prescribed by endogenous factors. The important core stopover regions we documented could be targeted for conservation efforts, particularly for steeply-declining, more northern breeding populations that have greater stopover duration in these areas.

The American Naturalist

Ecological Causes and Consequences of Intratropical Migration in Temperate-Breeding Migratory Birds

 188(S1):S28-40 · July 2016


New discoveries from direct tracking of temperate-breeding passerines show that intratropical migration (ITM) occurs in a growing number of species, which has important implications for understanding their evolution of migration, population dynamics, and conservation needs. Our large sample size ([Formula: see text]) for purple martins (Progne subis subis) tracked with geolocators to winter sites in Brazil, combined with geolocator deployments at breeding colonies across North America, allowed us to test hypotheses for ITM, something which has not yet been possible to do for other species. ITM in purple martins was not obligate; only 44% of individuals exhibited ITM, and movements were not coordinated in time or space. We found no evidence to support the resource hypothesis; rainfall and temperature experienced by individual birds during their last 2 weeks at their first roost site were similar to conditions at their second roost site after ITM. Birds generally migrated away from the heavily forested northwestern Amazon to less forested regions to the south and east. ITM in this aerial insectivore appears to support the competition-avoidance hypothesis and may be triggered by increasing local density in the core wintering region. Full life cycle models and migratory networks will need to incorporate ITM to properly address seasonal carryover effects and identify which wintering regions are most important for conservation.

Animal Behaviour

Tracking mated pairs in a long-distance migratory songbird: Migration schedules are not synchronized within pairs

114. 63-68. 10.1016


In long-distance migrants, it has been hypothesized that re-pairing in spring is facilitated if, on the wintering grounds, formerly mated individuals maintain close proximity or occupy ecologically similar habitat, which then results in more synchronized spring migration schedules. For songbirds, pair members have long been thought to migrate independently, but only recently has it been possible to directly track start-to-finish migration to test this prediction. We used light-sensor geolocators to track paired versus nonpaired purple martins, Progne subis subis, that breed in North America and winter in South America. In 6 of 12 pairs, pair members departed on autumn migration within 4 days of each other, but pairs rarely occupied nearby stopover sites in Central America and were separated by an average of 560 km upon arrival in Brazil. Formerly paired birds were not significantly more similar in autumn or spring migration timing, or winter roost location, compared with nonpaired birds tracked from the same colonies and years. Formerly mated pairs who were closer together in Brazil, or who occupied regions with similar amounts of forest cover, did not have more synchronized spring migration schedules. Only 1 of 12 pairs that were tracked remated after migration. Intense competition for nesting cavities combined with disparate spring migration schedules of former pairs probably contributes to the high divorce rate.