Autumn stopover hotspots and multiscale habitat associations of migratory landbirds in the eastern United States

Fengyi Guo, Jeffrey J. Buler, Jaclyn A. Smolinsky, David S. Wilcove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Halting the global decline of migratory birds requires a better understanding of migration ecology. Stopover sites are a crucial yet understudied aspect of bird conservation, mostly due to challenges associated with understanding broad-scale patterns of transient habitat use. Here, we use a national network of weather radar stations to identify stopover hotspots and assess multiscale habitat associations of migratory landbirds across the eastern United States during autumn migration. We mapped seasonal bird densities over 5 y (2015 to 2019) from 60 radar stations covering 63.2 million hectares. At a coarse scale, we found that landbirds migrate across a broad front with small differences in migrant density between radar domains. However, relatively more birds concentrate along the Mississippi River and Appalachian Mountains. At a finer scale, we identified radar pixels that consistently harbored high densities of migrants for all 5 y, which we classify as stopover hotspots. Hotspot probability increased with percent cover of all forest types and decreased with percent cover of pasture and cultivated crops. Moreover, we found strong concentrating effects of deciduous forest patches within deforested regions. We also found that the prairie biome in the Midwest (now mostly cropland) is likely a migration barrier, with large concentrations of migrants at the prairie–forest boundary after crossing the agricultural Midwest. Overall, the broad-front migration pattern highlights the importance of locally based conservation efforts to protect stopover habitats. Such efforts should target forests, especially deciduous forests in highly altered landscapes. These findings demonstrate the value of multiscale habitat assessments for the conservation of migratory landbirds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2203511120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 17 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • bird migration
  • conservation
  • migration barrier
  • radar ornithology
  • stopover hotspot


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