Can a ‘wintering area effect’ explain population status of Swainson's hawks? A stable isotope approach


Correspondence: José Hernán Sarasola, Centro para el Estudio y Conservación de las Aves Rapaces en Argentina (CECARA), FCEyN – UNLPam, Avda. Uruguay 151, 6300 Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina. E-mail:


It has been suggested that declines in breeding populations of Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni) in California, Oregon, and Nevada may be due to differential mortality of hawks on their wintering grounds. Although massive mortality incidents reported on the wintering grounds partially support this suggestion, there are no data showing differential use of wintering areas by breeding populations of Swainson's hawks. We used stable-hydrogen isotope analysis of feathers to determine whether large flocks of hawks wintering in Argentina consisted of a mixture of individuals from across the North American breeding range or consisted of individuals from discrete breeding populations. We found that flocks of wintering Swainson's hawks consisted of a mixture of individuals. The lack of connectivity between populations of breeding and wintering hawks suggests that high wintering mortality, either natural or human-induced, is unlikely to have direct consequences on a single breeding area in North America. The demographic effects of winter mortality should be ‘diluted’ across the entire breeding range of Swainson's hawks.