- Soaring across continents: decision-making of a soaring migrant under changing atmospheric conditions along an entire flyway
- Journal of Avian Biology
- Volume | Issue number
- 48 | 6
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
Thermal soaring birds reduce flight-energy costs by alternatingly gaining altitude in thermals and gliding across the earth's surface. To find out how soaring migrants adjust their flight behaviour to dynamic atmospheric conditions across entire migration routes, we combined optimal soaring migration theory with high-resolution GPS tracking data of migrating Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus and wind data from a global numerical atmospheric model.
We compared measurements of gliding air speeds to predictions based on two distinct behavioural benchmarks for thermal soaring flight. The first being a time-optimal strategy whereby birds alter their gliding air speeds as a function of climb rates to maximize cross-country air speed over a full climb-glide cycle (Vopt). The second a risk-averse energy-efficient strategy at which birds alter their gliding air speed in response to tailwinds/headwinds to maximize the distance travelled in the intended direction during each glide phase (Vbgw).
Honey Buzzards were gliding on average 2.05 ms-1 slower than Vopt and 3.42 ms-1 faster than Vbgw while they increased air speeds with climb rates and reduced air speeds in tailwinds. They adopted flexible flight strategies gliding mostly near Vbgw under poor soaring conditions and closer to Vopt in good soaring conditions.
Honey Buzzards most adopted a time-optimal strategy when crossing the Sahara, and at the onset of spring migration, where and when they met with the best soaring conditions. The buzzards nevertheless glided slower than Vopt during most of their journeys, probably taking time to navigate, orientate and locate suitable thermals, especially in areas with poor thermal convection,.
Linking novel tracking techniques with optimal migration models clarifies the way birds balance different trade-offs during migration.
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- With online appendix
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