Bird Natal Dispersal Distance

Characterizing and determining factors that explain variation in bird natal dispersal distances

Dispersal is an important aspect of ecology; fundamental to many processes such as community connectivity, gene flow, speciation, and macroevolution. Natal dispersal, defined as the movement of an animal from birth site to first established breeding site, it is usually the longest dispersal event among birds and thus it is influential to range changes. Evidently there exists variation in dispersal within species and across species, as past research has shown age- and sex-specific differences in philopatry. More recent studies have investigated the distribution of dispersal distances and characterized the variation in dispersal distances, rather than the level of philopatry. Empirical evidence that strongly suggests causality between a predictor and dispersal variation is lacking due to the multicausality of the dispersal process and difficulty in estimating dispersal parameters. There have been contrasting results regarding factors that control dispersal variation; population size, geographic range size, migratory behaviour, sex feeding guild and morphology are all parameters that have shown correlation with dispersal distances.


Chu, J. J., & Claramunt, S. (2023). Determinants of natal dispersal distances in North American birds. Ecology and Evolution, 13(2), e9789.

Weeks, B. C., O’Brien, B. K., Chu, J. J., Claramunt, S., Sheard, C., & Tobias, J. A. (2022). Morphological adaptations linked to flight efficiency and aerial lifestyle determine natal dispersal distance in birds. Functional Ecology, 36, 1681– 1689.

Fu, Hellen (Yi)., Su, Michelle., Chu, J. J., Margaritescu, A., & Claramunt, S. (2023). New methods for estimating the total wing area for birds. Ecology and Evolution, 13(9), e10480.

Figure from Chu & Claramunt (2023) Relationship between the flight efficiency (wing’s aspect ratio), population size, habitat, and natal dispersal distance for 44 species of North American birds. The size of the points is proportional to population size up to 100,000,000 individuals (species with greater populations are depicted with the same sized point). Colour of points refer to habitat categories; coasts (C) are gray, open and upland habitats (O) are yellow, wetlands (WE) are blue, and woodlands (WO) are green.