Thanks to a distinctive race of sparrow with a unique breeding cycle, we can find out when a migratory bird faces its biggest risks, within each year and throughout its lifetime.
Ipswich sparrows breed almost exclusively on Sable Island, a 40-km island over 100 km off of Nova Scotia. But they winter in the narrow strip of coastal dunes that line the East Coast south to Georgia.
Thanks to their restricted range in summer and winter, we have a fighting chance of relocating individual birds at both ends of their migratory journey, giving us an estimate of who survived and who didn't, and when in the year they face their biggest threats.
These data will contribute to conservation of this unique sparrow, listed as Special Concern in Canada and Special Concern or Threatened in several U.S. states. More broadly, it will provide one of the first whole-year overviews of the "crunch" times in a songbird's life -- valuable information for prioritizing conservation actions within and across international borders.