Trade-offs, condition dependence and stopover site selection by migrating sandpipers

R.C. Ydenberg, R.W. Butler, D.B. Lank, C.G. Guglielmo, M. Lemon, N. Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Western sandpipers Calidris mauri on southward migration fly over the Gulf of Alaska to the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, where they stop for a few days to replenish reserves before continuing. In the Strait, individuals captured on the extensive tidal mudflats of the Fraser estuary (∼25000 ha) are significantly heavier (2.71 g, or >10% of lean body mass) than those captured on the small (<100 ha) mudflat of nearby Sidney Island. Previous work has shown that the difference cannot be attributed to seasonal timing, size, age or gender effects, and here we compare predictions made by six hypotheses about a diverse set of data to explain why, partway through a migratory journey of ∼10000 km, birds have such different body masses at two stopover sites within 40 km of each other. The ‘trade-off’ hypothesis – that the large Fraser estuary offers safety from predators, but a lower fattening rate, while the small Sidney Island site is more dangerous, but offers a higher fattening rate – made six successful predictions, all of which were upheld by the data. All other hypotheses failed at least one prediction. We infer that calidrid sandpipers arriving in the Strait of Georgia with little fat remaining (and therefore low body mass) choose to take advantage of the high feeding rate at small sites like Sidney Island because they are less vulnerable to avian predators than are individuals with higher fat reserves, who instead elect to feed at large open sites like the Fraser estuary mudflats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-55
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • long-distance migrant
  • western sandpipers
  • british-columbia
  • body-mass
  • raptor predation
  • spring migration
  • calidris-alpina
  • sex-ratio
  • risk
  • coast

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