Polar Biology

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 11–17 | Cite as

Ecological factors associated with the breeding and migratory phenology of high-latitude breeding western sandpipers

Original Paper


Environmental conditions influence the breeding and migratory patterns of many avian species and may have particularly dramatic effects on long-distance migrants that breed at northern latitudes. Environment, however, is only one of the ecological variables affecting avian phenology, and recent work shows that migration tactics may be strongly affected by changes in predator populations. We used long-term data from 1978 to 2000 to examine the interactions between snowmelt in western Alaska in relation to the breeding or migration phenologies of small shorebirds and their raptor predators. Although the sandpipers’ time of arrival at Alaskan breeding sites corresponded with mean snowmelt, late snowmelts did delay breeding. These delays, however, did not persist to southward migration through British Columbia, likely due to the birds’ ability to compensate for variance in the length of the breeding season. Raptor phenology at an early stopover site in British Columbia was strongly related to snowmelt, so that in years of early snowmelt falcons appeared earlier during the sandpipers’ southbound migration. These differential effects indicate that earlier snowmelt due to climate change may alter the ecological dynamics of the predator–prey system.



We thank the many members of the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Centre for Wildlife Ecology at Simon Fraser University who helped in the field. We thank especially Tim Bowman providing us with his report on the breeding of birds in western Alaska, and John Ireland, Director of the Reifel Migratory Bird Refuge, for making his falcon sighting data available. The Alaska crew, David Lank, Nils Warnock, Tony Williams, Dan Ellis, Rob Nielson, Rolf Gradinger and anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments. Research was funded by a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation (to ACN), grants from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (to RCY) and the Centre for Wildlife Ecology at Simon Fraser University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Wildlife EcologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.School of Integrative BiologyThe University of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia

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