Investigation of bird migration has often highlighted the importance of external factors in determining timing of migration However, little distinction has been made between short- and long-distance migrants and between local and flight birds (passage migrants) in describing migration chronology. In addition, measures of food abundance as a proximate factor influencing timing of migration are lacking in studies of migration chronology. To address the relationship between environmental variables and timing of migration we quantified the relative importance of proximate external factors on migration chronology of local American woodcock (Scolopax minor), a short distance migrant, using event-time analysis methods (survival analysis). We captured 1,094 woodcock local to our study sites in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin (USA) during autumn 2002-2004 and documented 786 departure dates for these birds. Photoperiod appeared to provide an initial proximate cue for timing of departure. Moon phase was important in modifying timing of departure, which may serve as a navigational aid in piloting and possibly orientation. Local synoptic weather variables also contributed to timing of departure by changing the rate of departure from our study sites. We found no evidence that food availability influenced timing of woodcock departure. Our results suggest that woodcock use a conservative photoperiod-controlled strategy with proximate modifiers for timing of migration rather than relying on abundance of their primary food, earthworms. Managing harvest pressure on local birds by adjusting season lengths may be an effective management tool with consistent migration patterns from year to year based on photoperiod.
Additional publication details
Proximate cues for a short-distance migratory species: An application of survival analysis