Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

McGrath, L.J., C. van Riper, and J.J. Fontaine. 2009. Flower power: Tree flowering phenology as a settlement cue for migrating birds. J. Animal Ecology 78:22-30.


1. Neotropical migrant birds show a clear preference for stopover habitats with ample food supplies; yet, the proximate cues underlying these decisions remain unclear. 2. For insectivorous migrants, cues associated with vegetative phenology (e.g. flowering, leaf flush, and leaf loss) may reliably predict the availability of herbivorous arthropods. Here we examined whether migrants use the phenology of five tree species to choose stopover locations, and whether phenology accurately predicts food availability. 3. Using a combination of experimental and observational evidence, we show migrant populations closely track tree phenology, particularly the flowering phenology of honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and preferentially forage in trees with more flowers. Furthermore, the flowering phenology of honey mesquite reliably predicts overall arthropod abundance as well as the arthropods preferred by migrants for food. 4. Together, these results suggest that honey mesquite flowering phenology is an important cue used by migrants to assess food availability quickly and reliably, while in transit during spring migration.