We studied the influence of matrix habitats and destination territory social composition on dispersal choices made by red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides borealis). We compared matrix habitats and social conditions for 165 dispersals documented between 1995 and 2005 with similarly distanced destinations that went unselected. We modeled data with discrete choice analysis methods, and ranked models using a model selection approach. Model-averaged parameters indicated that juvenile female, and juvenile and helper male red-cockaded woodpeckers dispersed across matrix forests with characteristics similar to those used for breeding. Models differed for sex and social classes, but results generally indicated that birds chose not to transit forests with greater densities of hardwood trees and young pines, and that dispersal was more likely to occur across forests with more large diameter pine trees. Dispersers of both sexes also chose destinations without non-breeding helpers that might present aggressive social challenges to dispersers, particularly males. Juvenile females and helper males also preferred to disperse to territories that were currently occupied by breeding woodpeckers. Previous studies documented the influence on dispersal of travel distance, natal area social interactions and resources, and resources at dispersal destinations. Our results extend factors that affect dispersal movement to include matrix habitats traversed by dispersers and the social composition of destination territories. As such, results have key implications for promoting population connectivity and conservation management of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, as well as other resident territorial birds.
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