Conservation of Bewick’s swans (Cygnus columbianus bewickii): Insights from the identification of critical stopover sites and migration corridors

By Xuelei Wei, Guogang Zhang, Yunrui Ji, Guoxiang Yang, Yong Li, Daoliang Shi, Hesong Zheng, Jinshan Peng

Migratory birds face diverse threats during migration. Critical stopover sites (CSSs) are essential refueling and resting sites for migratory birds that ensure their complete migration and survival.

Therefore, identifying bird migration patterns, routes, and critical habitats is vital for conservation. From 2018–2022, we deployed satellite tracking devices on 30 Bewick’s swans (Cygnus columbianus bewickii) wintering in China to determine their migration routes. Using a dynamic Brownian bridge movement model, we identified migration corridors, core movement areas, and CSSs for Bewick’s swans. Combining protected area databases and human settlement types, we further assessed the swans’ conservation status and human impacts on CSSs.

Bewick’s swans in flight by Ben Cherry/WWT

The results showed that Bewick’s swans migrated north from their wintering grounds using one of three routes (west, middle, and east), passing through Mongolia to reach the Russian Arctic (breeding grounds) in spring. They followed similar routes during autumn to return to wintering grounds. We found a new middle route within the East Asian–Australasian Flyway (EAAF) and several northward expanded wintering sites. Our study revealed similarities and differences in the spring and autumn migrations, with longer stopover durations in spring due to migration strategies and ice conditions. Moreover, our findings identified the Inner Mongolia region, the Songnen Plain, the Bohai Rim of China, and the main streams of the Lena River and the Ob River of Russia as CSSs for Bewick’s swans. However, the conservation status of the CSSs was relatively low; and the situation was more severe in spring than in autumn, only 4.3% of the total area was protected, likely due to the distribution of farmland and urban areas. Specifically, 14.3% of the CSSs in China were in urban areas during spring, while in Mongolia and Russia this figure was less than 1%.

Therefore, it is necessary to balance waterbird conservation with sustainable agriculture and urban development. This research contributes to our understanding of the migratory ecology of Bewick’s swans wintering in China. The identified migration corridors and CSSs are crucial for the future conservation of swans along the EAAF.

The full article can be found here