Each year, millions of birds travel from summer breeding areas in North America to winter in the south as far as Latin America and the Caribbean. Along their route, migrating birds face an increasingly complex range of threats, including development pressures, invasive species, avian diseases, and a changing climate. Information on migratory processes and patterns are critical to our understanding of how these threats affect migrating birds. Yet migration strategies are not well understood, particularly for smaller species because tracking these species can be difficult.

A Gray Catbird carries a GPS tracking device called a pinpoint unit.

More recently, tiny tracking devices can be used for small animals such as songbirds. In 2012, we began investigating where Gray Catbirds, who breed in Montana, spend the winter and how they get there. Preliminary results suggest they winter along the gulf coast, in a wintering area succinct from other Gray Catbird populations from the mid-western and eastern United States (see Ryder et al. 2011). UMBEL Research Director Megan Fylling recently published a paper in the journal Movement Ecology with a team from UBC Okanangan and MPG Ranch about migratory Gray Catbird movement. We are also tagging a variety of other species, including a long-distance migrant, the Swainson's Thrush. We have tagged 70 of these birds since 2019, with detections as far south as Colombia. 

To further investigate migratory patterns in songbirds, we also run banding stations during fall migration in the Bitterroot Valley on the MPG Ranch. We began running stations in 2011 to investigate phenology, species composition, molt patterns, and abundance of migrant passerines in different habitats. We are fortunate to be partnering with Dr. Creagh Breuner from the University of Montana to more closely examine the relationship between body condition and migration.