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Using oxygen and hydrogen stable isotopes to track the migratory movement of Sharp-shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus) along Western Flyways of North America


The large-scale patterns of movement for the Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), a small forest hawk found throughout western North America, are largely unknown. However, based on field observations we set out to test the hypothesis that juvenile migratory A. striatus caught along two distinct migration routes on opposite sides of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of North America (Pacific Coast and Intermountain Migratory Flyways) come from geographically different natal populations. We applied stable isotope analysis of hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) of feathers, and large scale models of spatial isotopic variation (isoscapes) to formulate spatially explicit predictions of the origin of the migrant birds. Novel relationships were assessed between the measured hydrogen and oxygen isotope values of feathers from A. striatus museum specimens of known origin and the isoscape modeled hydrogen and oxygen isotope values of precipitation at those known locations. We used these relationships to predict the origin regions for birds migrating along the two flyways from the measured isotope values of migrant's feathers and the associated hydrogen and oxygen isotopic composition of precipitation where these feathers were formed. The birds from the two migration routes had overlap in their natal/breeding origins and did not differentiate into fully separate migratory populations, with birds from the Pacific Coast Migratory Flyway showing broader natal geographic origins than those from the Intermountain Flyway. The methodology based on oxygen isotopes had, in general, less predictive power than the one based on hydrogen. There was broad agreement between the two isotope approaches in the geographic assignment of the origins of birds migrating along the Pacific Coast Flyway, but not for those migrating along the Intermountain Migratory Flyway. These results are discussed in terms of their implications for conservation efforts of A. striatus in western North America, and the use of combined hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope analysis to track the movement of birds of prey on continental scales.

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