Feather stable-isotope profiles reveal stopover habitat selection and site fidelity in nine migratory species moving through sub-Saharan Africa


  • Elizabeth Yohannes,

  • Keith A. Hobson,

  • David J. Pearson

E. Yohannes (correspondence), Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, Postfach 1564, Haus No. 5, D-82319 Seewiesen, Germany. Email:yohannes@orn.mpg.de. – K. A. Hobosn, Environment Canada, 11 Innovation Blvd., Saskatoon, SK, S7N 3H5, Canada. – D. J. Pearson, Lupin Close Reydon, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6NW, UK.


Stable nitrogen (δ15N), carbon (δ13C) and hydrogen (δD) isotope profiles in feathers of nine migratory bird species trapped in Kenya were examined to test the extent to which they were segregated, geographically or by habitat, during an earlier autumn migration stopover in northeast Africa. We examined whether isotopic differences between species varied between years, and whether the isotope profiles of individual species appeared to be consistent. The relationship between mean feather δ13C, δ15N and δD assorted the migrants into several clustered groups. Similar feather isotope values among successive years revealed that each species tended to return to the same or similar stopover areas and selected habitat and diet that generated similar isotopic signatures. Possible explanations are discussed for the existence of these isotopic groups.