Department of Biological Sciences, Center for Wildlife Ecology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.
Background: Long-distance migratory birds in North America have undergone precipitous declines over the past half-century. Although the trend is clear, for many migrating species underpinning the exact causes poses a challenge to conservation due to the numerous stressors that they encounter. Climate conditions during all phases of their annual cycle can have important consequences for their survival. Here, using 15 years of capture-recapture dataset, we determined the effects of various climate factors during the breeding, wintering, and migrating stages on the annual survival of a western yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens auricollis) population breeding in southwestern Canada.
Results: El Niño effects over the entire annual cycle had little influence on the annual apparent survival of yellow-breasted chats. However, we found evidence that wind conditions during migration, specifically average westerly wind speed or the frequency of storm events, had significant adverse effects on adult annual apparent survival. In comparison, precipitation levels on wintering ground had little to no influence on adult annual apparent survival, whereas growing degree days on the breeding ground had moderate but positive effects.
Conclusions: In the face of climate change and its predicted impacts on climate processes, understanding the influence of weather conditions on the survival of migrating birds can allow appropriate conservation strategies to be adopted for chats and other declining neotropical migrants.