The relative importance of cottonwood-willow riparian corridors and isolated oases to land birds migrating across southeastern Arizona was evaluated during four spring migrations, 1989 to 1994, based on patterns of species richness, relative abundance, density, and body condition of birds. We surveyed birds in 13 study sites ranging in size and connectivity from small isolated patches to extensive riparian forest, sampled vegetation and insects, and captured birds in mistnets. The continuous band of riparian vegetation along the San Pedro River does not appear to be functioning as a corridor for many migrating species, although it may for a few, namely Yellow-breasted Chats (Icteria virens), Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra), and Northern Rough-winged Swallows (Steldigopteryx serripennis), which account for fewer than 10% of the individuals migrating through the area. Small, isolated oases hosted more avian species than the corridor sites, and the relative abundances of most migrating birds did not differ between sites relative to size-connectivity. There were few differences in between-year variability in the relative abundances of migrating birds between corridor and oasis sites. Between-year variability decreased with overall abundance of species and was greater for species with breeding ranges that centered north of 50??N latitude. Body condition of birds did not differ relative to the size-connectivity of the capture site, but individuals of species with more northerly breeding ranges had more body fat than species that breed nearby. Peak migration densities of several bird species far exceeded breeding densities reported for the San Pedro River, suggesting that large components of these species were en route migrants. Peak densities of Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia) reached 48.0 birds/ha, of Wilson's Warblers (Wilsonia pusilla) 33.7 birds/ha, and of Yellow-rumped Warblers (D. coronata) 30.1 birds/ha. Riparian vegetation is limited in extent in the vicinity of our study sites, covering less than 1% of the landscape. We conclude that all riparian patches in southeastern Arizona are important as stopover sites to en route migrants regardless of their size and degree of isolation or connectivity. In light of potential habitat limitation, the protection of both small, disjunct riparian patches and extensive riverine tracts in western landscapes is imperative.
Additional publication details
Comparative use of riparian corridors and oases by migrating birds in southeast Arizona