New Study Finds Golden-Crowned Sparrows Drift from Preferred Overwintering Sites Without Flockmates
A recent study conducted by ecologists at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has found that golden-crowned sparrows may be driven to stray from their preferred overwintering spots if they lose their flockmates. The research, aimed at determining whether sparrows value certain territories or social bonds more, sheds light on the complex dynamics of these migratory birds.
The study, conducted at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which serves as an overwintering site for golden-crowned sparrows, used leg bands and observations to map the geographic distribution and social networks of individual sparrows. Researchers found that sparrows tend to resettle just 90 feet away from the center of their previous year’s range. However, sparrows that appeared for at least their third consecutive winter began to drift from their preferred locales when their closest flockmates did not rejoin them.
Furthermore, the study discovered that sparrows that spent more consecutive winters at the site had less variation in their range from year to year, indicating a preference for specific locations. The sparrows were also shown to lose about 52% of their favored flockmates over multiple years, and when their closest social contacts failed to return, the sparrows tended to move farther from their previous center.
These findings suggest that sparrows’ loyalty lies not only with a particular locale but also with the presence of familiar flockmates. The loss of flockmates did not significantly affect the home ranges of sparrows returning for only their second winter, highlighting the importance of developing close contacts over multiple years.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds valuable insights into the behavior and preferences of golden-crowned sparrows during their overwintering period. By understanding the factors that influence their movements and range, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the ecological dynamics of these migratory birds.
As climate change continues to impact habitats and alter migration patterns, studies like these provide crucial information for conservation efforts and the preservation of these remarkable species. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s research contributes to a growing body of knowledge that can help inform effective management strategies to protect golden-crowned sparrows and their habitats.