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Migratory Birds At Risk Of Predation When Seeking Places that Resemble "Home"

Dec 15, 2015 03:40 PM EST
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Migratory birds seeking vacation homes that resemble their native habitats put themselves at an increased risk of predation, according to a 17-year study conducted by researchers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

For example, the endangered snail kite has a particular preference for its birthplace in the Everglades. And while these birds of prey move around a lot, resting in "places like home" impacts breeding, Robert Fletcher, an associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, explained in a news release.

"Other species often prey on the snail kite's nests; thus, leaving the bird unable to reproduce as effectively," Fletcher said. "Snail kites that leave their nesting areas in the Everglades usually find new homes that resemble their old ones. Yet snail kites that disperse to places like their home are more likely to have their nests preyed on."

Snail kites are slender, medium-sized raptors with a curved bill that can be found near freshwater marshes and the shallow vegetated edges of natural and manmade lakes where there is a plentiful supply of apple snails. Populations of snail kites living in Florida are restricted to watersheds in the central and southern part of the state. 

Between 1999 and 2008, snail kite populations declined from about 3,500 to about 700 individuals. However, populations appeared to bounce back a bit in 2014, when 1,700 birds were reported near lake habitats north of the Everglades. It was the bird's dwindling population, however, that prompted Fletcher's study.

Researchers monitored the dispersal patterns of snail kites by counting individuals and tracing where they nested over time to see if they returned to their abodes. Like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, their study revealed these migratory birds feel "there's no place like home."

"This is important and surprising and is some of the first evidence of this migratory pattern in vertebrates. For people, we have strong evidence of this," Fletcher concluded in the university's release.  "For example, I was born near the Smokey Mountains, and when I left home, I longed for a move to other areas where there were mountains. For animals, it has been suggested to occur, but there has been limited evidence in wild populations. Our work provides strong evidence for these effects and shows why they are important."

Their findings were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B

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