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Far eastern curlew and whimbrel prefer flying low - wind support and good visibility appear only secondary factors in determining migratory flight altitude

Authors
  • Galtbalt, Batbayar1
  • Lilleyman, Amanda2
  • Coleman, Jonathan T.3
  • Cheng, Chuyu4
  • Ma, Zhijun4
  • Rogers, Danny I.5, 6
  • Woodworth, Bradley K.7
  • Fuller, Richard A.7
  • Garnett, Stephen T.2
  • Klaassen, Marcel1, 8
  • 1 Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia , Geelong (Australia)
  • 2 Charles Darwin University, Ellengowan Drive, Casuarina, Northern Territory, 0909, Australia , Casuarina (Australia)
  • 3 Queensland Wader Study Group, 22 Parker Street, Shailer Park, 4128, Australia , Shailer Park (Australia)
  • 4 Fudan University, Shanghai, 200433, China , Shanghai (China)
  • 5 Arthur Rylah Institute, Heidelberg, Victoria, 3084, Australia , Heidelberg (Australia)
  • 6 Australasian Wader Studies Group, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia , Melbourne (Australia)
  • 7 University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia , Brisbane (Australia)
  • 8 Victorian Wader Study Group, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia , Melbourne (Australia)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Movement Ecology
Publisher
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Jun 13, 2021
Volume
9
Issue
1
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1186/s40462-021-00267-5
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
Disciplines
  • Research
License
Green

Abstract

BackgroundIn-flight conditions are hypothesized to influence the timing and success of long-distance migration. Wind assistance and thermal uplift are thought to reduce the energetic costs of flight, humidity, air pressure and temperature may affect the migrants’ water balance, and clouds may impede navigation. Recent advances in animal-borne long-distance tracking enable evaluating the importance of these factors in determining animals’ flight altitude.MethodsHere we determine the effects of wind, humidity, temperature, cloud cover, and altitude (as proxy for climbing costs and air pressure) on flight altitude selection of two long-distance migratory shorebirds, far eastern curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) and whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). To reveal the predominant drivers of flight altitude selection during migration we compared the atmospheric conditions at the altitude the birds were found flying with conditions elsewhere in the air column using conditional logistic mixed effect models.ResultsOur results demonstrate that despite occasional high-altitude migrations (up to 5550 m above ground level), our study species typically forego flying at high altitudes, limiting climbing costs and potentially alleviating water loss and facilitating navigation. While mainly preferring migrating at low altitude, notably in combination with low air temperature, the birds also preferred flying with wind support to likely reduce flight costs. They avoided clouds, perhaps to help navigation or to reduce the risks from adverse weather.ConclusionsWe conclude that the primary determinant of avian migrant’s flight altitude selection is a preference for low altitude, with wind support as an important secondary factor. Our approach and findings can assist in predicting climate change effects on migration and in mitigating bird strikes with air traffic, wind farms, power lines, and other human-made structures.

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