Baptiste Courtin

Université du Québec à Rimouski
Ph.D. candidate

Supervisor: François Vézina
Oliver Love, Windsor University
Start: 2022-08-29
End: 2026-08-31


Energetics, reserve management and flight performance in wintering and migrating Snow Buntings
The snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is a specialist of cold, Arctic environments and has declined by 60-75% in some parts of Canada over the past 60 years. The causes of this decline are unknown. In spring, snow buntings accumulate lipids, essential fuel for their migration to Arctic breeding grounds. Captive individuals at the UQAR start fattening in early spring (March) and preliminary analyses based on banding data suggest a fat accumulation plateau during migration along the St. Lawrence Valley and a substantial gain in Newfoundland, possibly to support the Labrador Sea crossing to the Greenland breeding grounds. However, these analyses need to be improved, to include more years and to cover more capture sites. Recent work at UQAR also suggests that the assessment of lipid storage developed from measurements on captive birds does not transfer well to free-ranging snow buntings. Also, whether the reserves accumulated in Newfoundland are large enough to support a direct flight to Greenland, considering the flight cost and the frequently difficult weather conditions, or whether the snow buntings would be forced to migrate north along the Labrador coast to cross at a narrower point, remains to be ascertained. Determining the precise pattern of reserve accumulation during migration is therefore fundamental to enhance our understanding of migratory performance and associated pressures in this declining species. For example, snow buntings may accumulate reserves throughout the migration in anticipation of crossing to Greenland and thus avoid a period of pause to accumulate the required reserves. Indeed, the first birds to arrive at the nesting sites have an overall better reproductive success. However, this continuous gain in mass could lead to a loss of manoeuvrability and an increased predation risk during migration. Alternatively, snow buntings could minimise fat accumulation above a certain mass to avoid possible losses in manoeuvrability, explaining the apparent lipid storage plateau from the banding data. This strategy would therefore require a stopover in Newfoundland to accumulate fuel for the crossing to Greenland. This project will combine the analysis of banding data in an experimental approach (outdoor aviary at UQAR) and field studies to investigate (1) the energy accumulation strategies of migrating males and females. Canada-wide banding data (> 20,000 birds banded) are already available and are being enhanced each year by several thousand entries. Captive flight performance tests are planned during the spring fattening phase to (2) determine the threshold mass limiting manoeuvrability at the individual scale. These projects will be combined with precise magnetic resonance lipid mass measurements on captive birds and on birds captured in Newfoundland right before the crossing to Greenland to (3) predict the potential flight distance depending on the weather constraints and given the energy reserves accumulated so far.


Écophysiologie, Comportement animal, Engraissement, migration, Performance de vol, Oiseau arctique


1- Insights on the residency status and inter-island movement patterns of pantropical spotted dolphins Stenella attenuata in the Agoa Sanctuary, Eastern Caribbean
Courtin, Baptiste, Cédric Millon, Aurore Feunteun, Morjane Safi, Nathalie Duporge, Jaime Bolanos-Jiménez, Dalia C. Barragan-Barrera, Laurent Bouveret, Benjamin De Montgolfier
2022 Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals