Winter Ecology in Jamaica

American redstart

This project is no longer active. Please contact us with any inquiries.

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center scientists use both traditional and new methods to learn more about how North America's migratory birds fare during their nonbreeding season. 

Every winter, SMBC researchers head to Jamaica's coastal black mangrove forests and adjacent scrub to study the birds that spend their non-breeding season there. Over the past 25 years, these scientists have gained key insights into how winter ecology — interactions with habitat, food, weather, climate and other animals — impacts the birds, not just at that time, but also during the following breeding season and subsequent years.

For example, researchers have found that winter habitat significantly impacts the reproductive success of American redstarts. One study showed that redstarts occupying lower-quality scrub habitat lost up to 8 percent of their body weight — a significant amount for a small bird — and left, on average, six days later for breeding grounds. This put them at a serious breeding disadvantage compared to their fitter counterparts who occupied more productive mangroves during the winter.

But it is not just about good versus bad habitat. SMBC has also found that winter climate really matters. Wetter winters produce more insects, which sustain redstarts and other migratory birds. Rainfall and subsequent food availability influence birds' body conditions, when they depart for breeding areas and the number of young they produce in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to reproductive success, winter habitat quality can also impact survival in a later season, abundance, breeding season range limits and natal dispersal. Research continues to explore how winter climate influences space use and migration strategies.

These studies help provide a full picture of what influences bird species' long-term survival and highlight the need to protect high-quality winter habitat. 

Additional Staff

Colin Studds

Additional Species

American redstart

Swainson's warbler


Continue Exploring

Changing Landscapes Initiative

Smithsonian scientists work alongside community members in Northwestern Virginia to evaluate the impacts of land-use change on wildlife, ecosystem services and community health.

Coral Biobank Alliance

Smithsonian scientists are part of the Coral Biobank Alliance, a global network of coral experts preserving corals for restoration and research.

Coral Species Cryopreserved with Global Collaborators​

View a list of the coral species that have been cryopreserved using a technique developed by Smithsonian scientists.

Wildebeest Conservation

Conservation Ecology Center scientists are tracking the movements of white-bearded wildebeest to understand how changes across the landscape impact the species.

Protecting Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes

In 2022, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center will begin a new research project to help protect endangered piping plovers from predation by merlins.

Swift Fox Recovery

Smithsonian scientists, in collaboration with the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, are embarking on a five-year swift fox reintroduction project to restore swift foxes to tribal lands and to help reestablish connectivity between disjointed swift fox populations.

Conserving the World’s Largest Working Wetland

Conservation Ecology Center researchers are collaborating with institutions in Brazil and other Smithsonian colleagues to support sustainable cattle ranching in the Pantanal wetland.