Contrasting Trans-Atlantic Migratory Routes of Nearctic Purple SandpipersCalidris maritimaAssociated with Low Pressure Systems in Spring and Winter

Bird migration is generally scheduled to avoid other energetically expensive events in the annual cycle (e.g. moult) and seasons when survival can be difficult (e.g. northern winters). Purple Sandpipers winter at relatively high latitudes compared to other waders. It is suspected that the majority that winter in Britain and Ireland originate from Canada, but there is no primary evidence of their breeding grounds and migratory routes. These birds, characterised by their long bills, start to arrive in Britain and Ireland in late October/early November, after completing their post-nuptial moult at an unknown location. Fifty geolocators were attached to Purple Sandpipers in northern Scotland and southwest Ireland and we established for the first time their Canadian origin (Baffin Island and Devon Island), migration routes and post-nuptial moulting areas. Spring departure from Scotland and Ireland took place mainly in late May, followed by staging in Iceland and/or southwest Greenland before reaching the breeding grounds. Those that staged in Iceland departed earlier than those that flew directly to Greenland. Post-nuptial moulting areas were in southern Baffin Island, northern Quebec/Labrador (the Hudson Strait), and southwest Greenland. Migration from Baffin Island and Labrador took place during late October – early November, and during mid to late December from Greenland, usually in a single trans-Atlantic flight. Therefore, this migration was scheduled at a time when most other wader species are already on their wintering grounds. No birds staged in Iceland on the return trip. The flight from Baffin Island to Scotland and Ireland was accomplished in about 2.5 days at an average speed of about 1400 km per day. Freezing of coastal waters may be the reason for the eventual departure from the Hudson Strait. The more northerly route via Iceland, taken in spring by most birds, and the more southerly route in early winter were associated with seasonal shifts in the Atlantic low pressure systems (depressions) whose anti-clockwise wind-flows would have assisted flights.


Publication status:
Authors: Summers, R.W., Boland, H., Colhoun, K., Elkins, N., Etheridge, B., Foster, S., Fox, J.W., Mackie, K., Quinn, L.R., Swann, R.L.

1 October, 2014
Ardea / 102
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