Facultative altitudinal movements by mountain white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) in the Sierra Nevada

Thomas P. Hahn, Keith W. Sockman, Creagh W. Breuner, Martin L. Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Mountain White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) winter in Mexico and often arrive in the vicinity of their breeding grounds in the Sierra Nevada well before nesting is possible. Arrival at Tioga Pass, California (elevation 3,030 m), usually occurs in early May, but residual winter snow and adverse weather can delay nesting for weeks. We used radiotelemetry to determine whether prebreeding Mountain White-crowned Sparrows engaged in weather-related altitudinal movements during the waiting period between the end of spring migration and onset of breeding during 1995-2001, with a range of residual winter snowpacks. Interannual variation in arrival date and onset of egg laying was 18 and 41 days, respectively. We tracked females for two years and males for all seven years. During spring snowstorms (which occurred in four years), radiomarked individuals moved to lower elevation sites, where they often remained for several days. Departing birds left Tioga Pass by early afternoon and returned early in the morning after storms. More frequent storms during tracking increased the likelihood of facultative altitudinal movements, but heavier residual winter snowpack did not. Warm days increased the likelihood of birds returning to Tioga Pass from low elevation. This study demonstrates that facultative altitudinal movement behavior can be a common feature of spring arrival biology in montane-breeding birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1269-1281
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


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