Emily Upham-Mills

Degree: Master of Science in Ecology

Project Title: Use of acoustic recordings to compare habitat preference and quality for the Olive-sided Flycatcher by measuring spring arrival date and song rate

Co-supervised by Erin Bayne and Samuel Haché

My research investigates the use of autonomous recording units (ARUs) to know more about songbirds than just presence and abundance. My research hinges around two main hypotheses.

The first hypothesis is that habitat preference can be inferred by comparing spring arrival date of songbirds in different habitat types, based off acoustic recording data. I predict that earlier arriving birds choose the best quality habitat in which to establish a breeding territory and later birds are driven to establish territories in lower quality habitat. A habitat is of high quality when it results in successful reproduction.

My second hypothesis is that a male’s singing rate can inform us about their breeding status because songbirds vary the amount that they sing depending on if they need to attract a female or not. Unpaired males sing more than paired males and there is also evidence of further variation in song rate (# of songs/give time) depending on if the female is on eggs or if the nest has failed. I predict that reproductive status can be estimated by monitoring song rate variation (# of songs/give time) throughout the breeding season.

For both hypotheses I will use automated recognizer software to detect songs captured in acoustic recordings. From this I can estimate the first date of singing at a location and calculate daily song rates for males throughout the breeding season.

I conduct field work in the boreal forest in southwestern Northwest Territories and northern Alberta, using the Olive-sided Flycatcher as my target species. This species is federally listed as Threatened due to significant population decline across its range over the last 40 years. The results of my research will enhance knowledge of breeding habitat and basic biology of a species at risk and provide a new method of measuring and comparing habitat quality for migratory songbirds.