Effects of predation danger on migration strategies of sandpipers

D.B. Lank, R.W. Butler, J. Ireland, R.C. Ydenberg

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We examine the potential selective importance of predation danger on the evolution of migration strategies of arctic-breeding calidrid sandpipers. Adult calidrids truncate parental care for reasons not obviously related to levels of food abundance on the breeding areas or at migratory stopover sites, suggesting that a different trade-off occurs between providing additional care and adult survivorship. The southward migrations of adult western sandpipers precede those of migratory peregrine falcons by almost a month. By moving early and quickly, adults remain ahead of migrant falcons all the way to their non-breeding areas, where they rapidly moult flight feathers. They complete the moult just as falcons arrive in late September¿October. By migrating early, they avoid exposure to falcons when they are unusually vulnerable, due to the requirements for fuelling migratory flight and of wing feather moult. Juvenile western sandpipers migrate south just as falcon numbers start to increase, but do not moult flight feathers in their first winter. Pacific dunlin use an alternative strategy of remaining and moulting in Alaska after falcons depart, and migrating to their overwintering sites after migrants have passed. East of the Rocky Mountains, the southbound migration of falcons begins 4¿6 weeks later. Southbound semipalmated sandpipers make extended migratory stopovers, but their lengths of stay shorten prior to falcon migration to the sites in September. Predation danger also may affect the evolution of migration routes. Southbound western sandpipers fly directly from Alaska to southern British Columbia, in contrast to the multi-stage journey northward along the Alaska panhandle. We estimate that a direct flight would be more economical on northward migration, but may be avoided because it would expose sandpipers to higher mass-dependent predation danger from migratory falcons, which travel north with sandpipers. By contrast, few raptors are present in Alaska during preparation for the southward flight. A temporal and spatial window of safety may also permit semipalmated sandpipers to become extremely vulnerable while preparing for trans-Atlantic southward flights. Danger management may account for the these previously enigmatic features of calidrid migration strategies, and aspects of those of other birds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-319
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • migrant semipalmated sandpipers
  • arctic-breeding sandpipers
  • optimal avian migration
  • knots calidris-canutus
  • optimal fat loads
  • western sandpipers
  • raptor predation
  • autumn migration
  • bird migration
  • shorebird migration

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    Lank, D. B., Butler, R. W., Ireland, J., & Ydenberg, R. C. (2003). Effects of predation danger on migration strategies of sandpipers. Oikos, 103(2), 303-319. https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0706.2003.12314.x