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Migrants are generally assumed to minimize their overall migration time by adjusting their departure fuel loads (DFL) in relation to anticipated and experienced fuel deposition rates (FDRs). We utilized a 21-yr long migration banding station dataset to examine the relationship between FDR and DFL during spring migration in six Nearctic-Neotropical migratory songbird species during stopover along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) following trans-gulf flight. Estimates of fuel stores, stopover durations, and FDRs from our long term migration data set were combined to determine DFL. We expected and found that migrants across all six species adjust their DFL to the rate at which they deposit fuel reserves. This robust finding suggests that songbird migrants are sensitive to time constraints during spring passage presumably to fine-tune their stopover schedule in relation to experienced and anticipated habitat quality. Two of the species studied showed an effect of age on the FDR–DFL relationship: one was consistent with the expectation that older birds would be less sensitive to changes in FDR, while the second was contrary to our expectations and likely suggesting an age-dependent response to habitat quality. We found sex-dependent differences consistent with male DFL being more sensitive to FDR in only two of six species studied, and argue that both males and females are time constrained during spring passage in relation to arrival at breeding destinations. The positive relationship between FDR and DFL among all species and for age and sex groups in some species reflects a migration strategy sensitive to time.

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Moore, Frank & Covino, Kristen & Lewis, William & Zenzal Jr, TJ & Benson, Thomas. (2017). Effect of fuel deposition rate on departure fuel load of migratory songbirds during spring stopover along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Avian Biology. 48.

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