We examined winter habitat preferences of individual dunlin (Calidris alpina) in the Fraser River delta, British Columbia, Canada, adjacent to agricultural land near an area of dense and increasing human settlement. We used radiotelemetry and compositional analysis to quantify and describe dunlin habitat selection at 2 scales (regional and local) throughout the 24-hr day and daily tidal cycles. We tested for differences between sex and age classes, and among birds captured at different sites. Patterns of habitat preference differed between sexes and among dunlin from different sites in the delta, but we detected no difference between age classes. We ranked habitat types in order of dunlin preference and tested for significant differences among habitat ranks. Dunlin showed a significant preference for tidally influenced marine habitats at both scales and throughout the study area. However, most individuals (>80%) also used terrestrial habitats, usually during high tide and primarily at night. The role of terrestrial habitats in the ecology of Fraser River delta dunlin previously had been underestimated because these habitats are used far more at night than during the day. Regionally, soil-based agricultural crops ranked above other terrestrial habitats, and pasture was the only terrestrial habitat that was ranked highly and preferred at both scales. Pasture vegetation tends to be short, and pasture fields in the Fraser River delta are fertilized heavily and naturally with cattle manure. We recommend that managers promote the maintenance of a mosaic of soil-based agricultural crops—with a particular emphasis on naturally fertilized pastures—for dunlin and other shorebirds wintering in the Fraser delta. Terrestrial habitat fragmentation also should be kept to a minimum, as dunlin preferred large fields, likely in response to predation risk.
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Vol. 68 • No. 1