Many migratory bird species show high levels of site fidelity to their wintering sites, which confers advantages due to prior knowledge, but may also limit the ability of the individual to move away from degrading sites or to detect alternative foraging opportunities. Winter site fidelity often varies among age groups, but sexual differences have seldom been recorded in birds. We studied a population of individually colour-marked sanderlings wintering in and around the Tejo estuary, a large estuarine wetland on the western coast of Portugal. For 160 individuals, sighted a total of 1,249 times between November 2009 and March 2013, we calculated the probability that they moved among five distinct wintering sites and how this probability is affected by distance between them. To compare site fidelity among age classes and sexes, as well as within the same winter and over multiple winters, we used a Site Fidelity Index (SFI). Birds were sexed using a discriminant function based on biometrics of a large set of molecularly sexed sanderlings (n = 990). The vast majority of birds were observed at one site only, and the probability of the few detected movements between sites was negatively correlated with the distance among each pair of sites. Hardly any movements were recorded over more than 15 km, suggesting small home ranges. SFI values indicated that juveniles were less site-faithful than adults which may reflect the accumulated knowledge and/or dominance of older animals. Among adults, females were significantly less site faithful than males. A sexual difference in winter site fidelity is unusual in shorebirds. SFI values show site-faithfulness is lower when multiple winters were considered, and most birds seem to chose a wintering site early in the season and use that site throughout the winter. Sanderlings show a very limited tendency to explore alternative wintering options, which might have implications for their survival when facing habitat change or loss (e.g., like severe beach erosion as can be the case at one of the study sites).
- site fidelity
- Home range