Some taxa of North American birds have unknown winter ranges, because of the difficulty in tracking individuals between seasons. Stable isotopes may provide clues to help locate these nonbreeding populations. Previously, no valid records existed for the Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana nigrescens) from October to late April. We used stable-isotope (C, N, and H) analyses to provide estimates of where molt occurs and then searched those areas for individuals of this species. The δ13C and δ15N of rump feathers were consistent with the Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow molting in more saline marshes than the nominate subspecies after the breeding season, which confirms what was already known. The values for the same isotopes from crown feathers revealed that winter molt in the Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow probably occurred in similar coastal brackish habitats. The δD of crown feathers indicated that prebreeding molt occurred at latitudes between South Carolina and Virginia. A subsequent search of this region located 18 Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows, all of which were found in North Carolina or southeastern Virginia. Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows were found predominantly in brackish marshes similar to their breeding habitat. On the basis of these observations, it appears that Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows undergo a short southerly migration to a coastal region with substantially warmer winter conditions. This study is the first to make a specific geographic prediction based on stable-isotope analysis and to test the prediction in the field.
Análisis de Isótopos Estables (C, N, H) Ayudan a Localizar la Distribución Invernal de Melospiza georgiana nigrescens