The migration of the Great Snipe (Gallinago media): intriguing variations on a grand theme

Lindström, Å., Alerstam, T., Bahlenberg, P., Ekblom, R., Fox, J. W., Råghall, J., & Klaassen, R. H. G. (2016). The migration of the great snipe Gallinago media: intriguing variations on a grand theme. Journal of Avian Biology 47: 321–334.
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The migration of the great snipe Gallinago media was previously poorly known. Three tracks in 2010 suggested a remarkable migratory behaviour including long and fast overland non-stop flights. Here we present the migration pattern of Swedish male great snipes, based on 19 individuals tracked by light-level geolocators in four different years. About half of the birds made stopover(s) in northern Europe in early autumn. They left the breeding area 15 d earlier than those which flew directly to sub-Sahara, suggesting two distinct autumn migration strategies. The autumn trans-Sahara flights were on average 5500 km long, lasted 64 h, and were flown at ground speeds of 25 m s−1 (90 km h−1). The arrival in the Sahel zone of west Africa coincided with the wet season there, and the birds stayed for on average three weeks. The birds arrived at their wintering grounds around the lower stretches of the Congo River in late September and stayed for seven months. In spring the great snipes made trans-Sahara flights of similar length and speed as in autumn, but the remaining migration through eastern Europe was notably slow. All birds returned to the breeding grounds within one week around mid-May. The annual cycle was characterized by relaxed temporal synchronization between individuals during the autumn–winter period, with maximum variation at the arrival in the wintering area. Synchronization increased in spring, with minimum time variation at arrival in the breeding area. This suggests that arrival date in the breeding area is under strong stabilizing selection, while there is room for more flexibility in autumn and arrival to the wintering area. The details of the fast non-stop flights remain to be elucidated, but the identification of the main stopover and wintering areas is important for future conservation work on this red-listed bird species.

The autumn (a) and spring (b) migration of great snipes travelling between the breeding site in Sweden and their winter quarters in central Africa
The autumn (a) and spring (b) migration of great snipes travelling between the breeding site in Sweden and their winter quarters in central Africa. Green dots show the breeding site according to the light geolocators, orange and yellow dots show stopover sites in Europe/northern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, and blue dots the final wintering sites. Red solid lines mark the nonstop flights, and grey thin lines show shorter flights.

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