Grouping North American Birds by Migratory Status

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird
photo courtesy of Mark Lockwood

Partners in Flight originally was formed to emphasize conservation of species not otherwise covered by existing conservation initiatives. Nearctic-Neotropical migratory landbirds were not included in previously existing initiatives covering waterfowl (North American Waterfowl Management Plan), shorebirds (Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network), colonial waterbirds (Colonial Waterbird Group), or for that matter numerous initiatives that focused on tropical biodiversity. However, the momentum generated under the Partners in Flight banner interestingly has led not to competing with other bird conservation initiatives, but instead to a spreading desire to link many of these initiatives together so as to pool limited resources towards shared goals and objectives (e.g., Mississippi Alluvial Plain and Prairie Pothole Migratory Bird initiatives; Mueller, et al. in press).

While Partners in Flight still concentrates on Nearctic-Neotropical migratory landbird conservation, planning and implementation of specific actions requires taking into account the status and potential effects of these actions on all landbirds, in both temperate and tropical areas. Although many Neotropical migrants require attention throughout the Western Hemisphere, significant concern also exists for some temperate migrants (those species remaining primarily north of the tropics) and resident species that co-occur with Neotropical migrants in both breeding and wintering habitats (Hunter 1995). In fact, Neotropical migrants provide the common link by which cooperation in conservation should occur across States and Nations, without taking anything away from conservation of highly endangered and narrowly distributed resident species, especially in the tropics.

Despite these advances in bird conservation thinking, there continues to be dissatisfaction about how to best categorize groups of migratory birds (i.e., which species are Neotropical migrants; Finch and Martin 1991). As DeGraaf and Rappole (1995), Greenberg and Reaser (1995), and other investigators correctly point out, many species of shorebirds, waterfowl, and wading birds also migrate to and from temperate breeding areas through tropical zones. These and other investigators also correctly point out that there are many tropical species migrating solely within the tropics and other species referred to as Austral migrants that breed in temperate South American habitats while wintering north into tropical zones (e.g., Chesser 1994, Nocedal 1994).

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Understanding migration patterns and the underlying causes of why and where birds migrate are of course topics for serious debate, as is the expansion of what species should be included in lists of Neotropical migrants. As important as these topics are for academic debate, they add little to furthering bird conservation by themselves, especially in communicating what is important for local landowners and land managers to understand who control at least in part the fate of many vulnerable species. Obviously, species requiring conservation attention have been understood for many years to include Neotropical migrant (including species breeding in Nearctic, Neotropical, and Austral zones of the Western Hemisphere), temperate migrant, and resident (both temperate and tropical) landbirds and waterbirds (e.g., Terborgh 1989).

Literature Cited

Chesser, R. T. 1994. Migration in South America: an overview of the austral system. Bird Conservation International 4:91-107.
DeGraaf, R. M., and J. H. Rappole. 1995. Neotropical migratory birds: natural history, distribution, and population change. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, New York. 676 pages.
Finch, D. M., and T. Martin. 1991. Research working group of the Neotropical migratory bird program: workplans and reports, 18 October 1991. U.S. Dept. Agric., Forest Serv., Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Exp. Sta., Laramie, Wyoming.
Greenberg, R., and J. Reaser. 1995. Bring back the birds: what you can do to save threatened species. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. 312 pages.
Hunter, W. C. 1995. How much management emphasis should Neotropical migrants receive in the Southeast? 1993 Proc. Annu. Conf. Southeast. Assoc. Fish and Wildl. Agencies 47:428-438.
Mueller, A. J., C. R. Loesch, and D. J. Twedt. in press. Development of management objectives for breeding birds in Mississippi Alluvial Valley. In press. Proc. of the 1995 Partners in Flight International Workshop, October 1-5, 1995, The Cape May, New Jersey.
Nocedal, J. 1994. Local migrations of insectivorous birds in western Mexico: implications for the protection and conservation of their habitats. Bird Conservation International 4:129-142.
Terborgh, J. 1989. Where have all the birds gone. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 207 pages.

Contact Information:

For more information, please contact:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Wildlife Diversity
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, Texas 78744