Åkesson, S., Bianco, G. & Hedenström, A. (2016). Negotiating an ecological barrier: crossing the Sahara in relation to winds by common swifts. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150393. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0393
The Sahara Desert is one of the largest land-based barriers on the Earth, crossed twice each year by billions of birds on migration. Here we investigate how common swifts migrating between breeding sites in Sweden and wintering areas in sub-Saharan Africa perform the desert crossing with respect to route choice, winds, timing and speed of migration by analysing 72 geolocator tracks recording migration. The swifts cross western Sahara on a broad front in autumn, while in spring they seem to use three alternative routes across the Sahara, a western, a central and an eastern route across the Arabian Peninsula, with most birds using the western route. The swifts show slower migration and travel speeds, and make longer detours with more stops in autumn compared with spring. In spring, the stopover period in West Africa coincided with mostly favourable winds, but birds remained in the area, suggesting fuelling. The western route provided more tailwind assistance compared with the central route for our tracked swifts in spring, but not in autumn. The ultimate explanation for the evolution of a preferred western route is presumably a combination of matching rich foraging conditions (swarming insects) and favourable winds enabling fast spring migration.
Vidal-Mateo, J., Mellone, U., López-López, P., De La Puente, J., García-Ripollés, C., Bermejo, A. & Urios, V. (2016). Wind effects on the migration routes of trans-Saharan soaring raptors: geographical, seasonal, and interspecific variation. Current Zoology 62: 89–97. doi: 10.1093/cz/zow008 (Open Access)
Wind is among the most important environmental factors shaping birds’ migration patterns. Birds must deal with the displacement caused by crosswinds and their behavior can vary according to different factors such as flight mode, migratory season, experience, and distance to goal areas. Here we analyze the relationship between wind and migratory movements of three raptor species which migrate by soaring–gliding flight: Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus, booted eagle Aquila pennata, and short-toed snake eagle Circaetus gallicus. We analyzed daily migratory segments (i.e., the path joining consecutive roosting locations) using data recorded by GPS satellite telemetry. Daily movements of Egyptian vultures and booted eagles were significantly affected by tailwinds during both autumn and spring migrations. In contrast, daily movements of short-toed eagles were only significantly affected by tailwinds during autumn migration. The effect of crosswinds was significant in all cases. Interestingly, Egyptian vultures and booted eagles showed latitudinal differences in their behavior: both species compensated more frequently at the onset of autumn migration and, at the end of the season when reaching their wintering areas, the proportion of drift segments was higher. In contrast, there was a higher drift at the onset of spring migration and a higher compensation at the end. Our results highlight the effect of wind patterns on the migratory routes of soaring raptors, with different outcomes in relation to species, season, and latitude, ultimately shaping the loop migration patterns that current tracking techniques are showing to be widespread in many long distance migrants.
Vardanis, Y., Nilsson, J.-Å., Klaassen, R. H. G., Strandberg, R. & Alerstam, T. (2016). Consistency in long-distance bird migration: contrasting patterns in time and space for two raptors. Animal Behaviour 113: 177–187. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.12.014 PDF in ResearGate.net
As the evolutionary responses to environmental change depend on selection acting on individual differences, disentangling within- and between-individual variation becomes imperative. In animal migration research, multiyear tracks are thus needed to estimate the individual consistency of phenotypic traits. Avian telemetry studies have recently provided the first evidence of individuality across space and time in animal migration. Here, we compare repeatability patterns of routes and timing between two migratory birds, the marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus, and the osprey, Pandion haliaetus, as recorded by satellite tracking. We found interspecific contrasts with low repeatability in timing and duration and a high repeatability in routes for ospreys, but the reverse pattern for marsh harriers. This was mainly caused by (1) larger between-individual variation in routes for ospreys (broad-front migration) than for marsh harriers (corridor migration) and a higher degree of repeated use of the same stopover sites among ospreys, and (2) higher within-individual consistency of timing and duration among marsh harriers, while individual ospreys were more flexible. Our findings suggest that individuality in space and time is not a shared trait complex among migrants, but may show adaptive variation depending on the species’ life history and ecology.
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. Free access (now)
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.
Flack, A., Fiedler, W., Blas, J., Pokrovsky, I., Kaatz, M., Mitropolsky, M., Aghababyan, K., Fakriadis, I., Makrigianni, E., Jerzak, L. and Azafzaf, H., Feltrup-Azafzaf, C., Rotics, S., Mokotjomela, T. M., Nathan, R. & Wikelski, M. 2016. Costs of migratory decisions: A comparison across eight white stork populations. Science Advances 2(1): p.e1500931. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1500931 (Open Access)
Annual migratory movements can range from a few tens to thousands of kilometers, creating unique energetic requirements for each specific species and journey. Even within the same species, migration costs can vary largely because of flexible, opportunistic life history strategies. We uncover the large extent of variation in the lifetime migratory decisions of young white storks originating from eight populations. Not only did juvenile storks differ in their geographically distinct wintering locations, their diverse migration patterns also affected the amount of energy individuals invested for locomotion during the first months of their life. Overwintering in areas with higher human population reduced the stork’s overall energy expenditure because of shorter daily foraging trips, closer wintering grounds, or a complete suppression of migration. Because migrants can change ecological processes in several distinct communities simultaneously, understanding their life history decisions helps not only to protect migratory species but also to conserve stable ecosystems.
The first details of the migration pattern of a male Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus, fitted with a geolocator on its Scottish breeding grounds, showed that it wintered in the Algerian Atlas Mountains, substantially east of the suspected main wintering area.
Selstam, G., Sondell, J. & Olsson, P. (2015). Wintering area and migration routes for Ortolan Buntings Emberiza hortulana from Sweden determined with light-geologgers. Ornis Svecica 25: 3–14. PDF in ResearchGate.net
The decrease of Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana in Western Europe over the last five decades has caused serious concern for the survival of this species in Sweden. In order to find out the migration routes and wintering location, we equipped several males with geologgers. Our data show annual cycles of migrations routes, wintering grounds and time schedules for seven re-trapped birds. The wintering area in West Africa is savannah woodland in a mountainous landscape in Mali and Guinea. The migration routes follow more or less the great circle between the breeding and wintering areas. Most birds were likely to have passed the well-known Ortolan catching area in les Landes south of Bordeaux in France during autumn migration.
During autumn migration, all the birds made stopovers on the Iberian Peninsula or in Morocco, lasting from 6 to 32 days.
The birds started their spring migration in late March or first half of April. All birds arrived a few days later to stopovers in Morocco or Spain, lasting from 5 to 18 days.
From 2005 to 2011, 34 adult Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) were fitted with satellite transmitters in three different subpopulations in northern Europe by the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation.
This is the first study to describe in great details the migration system of a Palaearctic-African long-distance migrant. The results of this unique long-term and large scale satellite tracking project were recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B:
Trierweiler, C., Klaassen, R. H. G., Drent, R. H., Exo, K.-M., Komdeur, J., Bairlein, F., & Koks, B. J. (2014). Migratory connectivity and population-specific migration routes in a long-distance migratory bird. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20132897. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2897 (free access)
PDF also available from the University of Groningen
The study discovered a previously unknown major stopover area in northwest Africa (northeastern Morocco and northern Algeria, figure 3). This area is used extensively both in autumn and spring, predominantly by birds travelling via the western route (i.e. birds from The Netherlands, western Germany and Denmark). In autumn, Montagu’s Harriers made a large number of lengthy stopovers in these northwest African sites. In autumn, 25% of all stopovers were located in northern Africa, whereas in spring 45% of all stopovers were located in this region. Furthermore, in autumn 46% of all individuals made a stopover, whereas in spring 88% of the birds stopped in this region.
This study shows once more that for effective conservation of migratory animals, key stopover sites (where these animals spent a good amount of time both in spring and autumn) need the same attention as the final destinations of the journey (breeding and wintering areas).
Panuccio, M., Agostini, N., Mellone, U., & Bogliani, G. (2014). Circannual variation in movement patterns of the Black Kite (Milvus migrans migrans): a review. Ethology Ecology & Evolution 26: 1-18. DOI:10.1080/03949370.2013.812147 PDF in ResearchGate.net
The nominal subspecies of the Black Kite is a summer resident in Europe and Asia that winters mostly in western Africa, although numbers of birds wintering in the Mediterranean area are increasing. During migrations, tens of thousands are observed migrating through the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco, along the eastern side of the Black Sea, and in the Middle East, while substantial numbers cross the central Mediterranean and the Bosphorus. This paper provides a review of research concerning migration and its relationship with foraging behaviour in a circannual perspective. In particular, research made both by satellite tracking and by visual observations suggests a more evident time-selected migration during autumn rather than spring. Moreover, differences in timing occurring among different flyways could be explained either by different rates of intra-specific competition in areas with different breeding density and/or by different distances between wintering and breeding grounds.
As we can see from the map below, it is clearly visible that Tunisia is the most important site for the Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) ringed in Hungary, and we have regular observations from Libya, and there are some observations from Morocco and Mauritania, which is rarely visited by Hungarian individuals. We have only old recoveries from Egypt and Sudan, from between 1920-1950, and no data from Algeria or Chad – we suppose there are Spoonbills, but not checked for colour rings. We have only limited data from sub-Saharan Africa, namely from Niger, Nigeria and Mali – we suppose there must be more colour ringed Spoonbills. If you have chance, please try to read the rings of Spoonbills in Africa, and help our project with sending your data for us.