18 July 2024
Itinerant breeding shorebird defies norms

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Understanding Itinerant Breeding in Shorebird Species

Bird migration and reproduction are two essential and energy-intensive events in a bird’s annual cycle. Typically, migratory birds schedule these tasks at different times of the year to manage the high energy demands. However, a recent study by researchers at the University of Rhode Island has uncovered direct evidence of a unique breeding strategy called “itinerant breeding” in the American woodcock, a migratory shorebird species from eastern and central North America. This discovery challenges the traditional understanding of bird behavior and sheds light on the fascinating adaptations of these birds.

The American woodcock, also known by various colorful names such as timberdoodle, bogsucker, and night partridge, is renowned for its distinctive long bill used to extract earthworms and its elaborate mating dance. Despite its captivating behaviors, populations of this species have been declining in recent decades. The research team led by URI Ph.D. student Colby Slezak investigated the breeding habits of the American woodcock and published their findings in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Uncovering the Rare Breeding Strategy

Itinerant breeding, as observed in the American woodcock, is a rare phenomenon where birds overlap migration and reproduction periods. This strategy challenges the conventional belief that migration and breeding should be separate events due to the high energy costs involved. The study by URI researchers, supported by collaborators along the East Coast, provides the first direct evidence of itinerant breeding in this shorebird species.

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To gather data on the breeding behavior of American woodcock, more than 350 female birds were tagged with GPS transmitters between 2019 and 2022 across their migration route. This extensive tracking effort, part of the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative led by the University of Maine, enabled researchers to monitor the movement patterns of these birds and identify nesting locations. The collaboration of biologists from various agencies was crucial in verifying suspected nests and confirming the itinerant breeding strategy.

Insights into Woodcock Breeding Behavior

Analysis of the tracking data revealed fascinating aspects of the American woodcock’s breeding behavior. Contrary to the typical pattern observed in most migratory birds, where breeding occurs after migration, the study found that over 80% of tagged females nested multiple times during migration, with some females nesting up to six times. The females traveled significant distances between nests, particularly during northward migration, indicating a unique reproductive strategy.

It was observed that some females migrated northward after their initial nesting attempts, suggesting a flexible approach to breeding opportunities along their migration route. Despite the energy-intensive nature of migration and reproduction, American woodcock have evolved mechanisms to reduce costs, such as shorter migration distances and the use of diverse habitats. The larger size of females and the relatively small size of their eggs contribute to lower reproductive costs, enabling them to adopt the itinerant breeding strategy.

Implications for Conservation and Research

The discovery of itinerant breeding in American woodcock provides valuable insights into the adaptive strategies of migratory shorebirds. Understanding the reproductive behaviors of these birds, especially in the face of habitat loss and climate change, is crucial for their conservation. The flexibility exhibited by itinerant breeders like the woodcock in response to environmental changes offers hope for their survival in the evolving landscape.

As researchers continue to unravel the mysteries of bird behavior and migration patterns, studies like this one highlight the complexity and diversity of strategies employed by different species to ensure their reproductive success. By documenting and studying rare phenomena like itinerant breeding, scientists can enhance conservation efforts and contribute to the preservation of these remarkable shorebird species.

Links to additional Resources:

1. Audubon.org 2. AllAboutBirds.org 3. BirdWatchingDaily.com

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: American woodcock (bird), Bird migration, Shorebird species

American woodcock
The American woodcock (Scolopax minor), sometimes colloquially referred to as the timberdoodle, mudbat, bogsucker, night partridge, or Labrador twister is a small shorebird species found primarily in the eastern half of North America. Woodcocks spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where the birds' brown,...
Read more: American woodcock

Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal movement, often north and south, along a flyway, between breeding and wintering grounds. Many species of bird migrate. Migration carries high costs in predation and mortality, including from hunting by humans, and is driven primarily by the availability of food. It occurs mainly in...
Read more: Bird migration

Waders or shorebirds are birds of the order Charadriiformes commonly found wading along shorelines and mudflats in order to forage for food crawling or burrowing in the mud and sand, usually small arthropods such as aquatic insects or crustaceans. The term "wader" is used in Europe, while "shorebird" is used...
Read more: Wader

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