The postfledging period is the least-studied stage of avian life cycles. Survival during this period has crucial effects on population dynamics. Survival of fledged young may be influenced by dispersal from their nest sites, because juveniles must cope with the hazards of novel environments. To better understand this important life stage, we used radiotelemetry techniques to study postfledging movements and survival of 50 juvenile Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area in Jasper County, Illinois, in 1999 and 2000. Juveniles began to move away from the nesting area in the third week after fledging. Most juveniles moved only 1–5 km from their birth site by the end of the study (90 days). Juvenile survival for the first 90 days after fledging was estimated as 56–69%. Mortality was greatest during the first week of the postfledging period, likely because of high rates of predation. Juvenile meadowlarks are flightless at fledging and thus are vulnerable to predators. We did not observe a second peak of mortality, as other studies have shown, at independence or when juveniles began to move away from their nest areas. The present study suggests that immediate postfledging movements may not be related to dispersal to future breeding sites, but rather occur in response to immediate needs for food resources and security from predators. Furthermore, the data suggest that presumed mortality patterns and estimated levels of juvenile survival are suspect; that interspecific variability of juvenile survival and postfledging movements may be considerable; and that detailed, longer-duration field studies are necessary to elucidate this important demographic period.
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Vol. 121 • No. 4