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Inclement weather forces stopovers and prevents migratory progress for obligate soaring migrants

  • Mallon, Julie M.1
  • Bildstein, Keith L.2
  • Fagan, William F.1
  • 1 University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 20742, USA , College Park (United States)
  • 2 Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Acopian Center for Conservation Learning, 410 Summer Valley Road, Orwigsburg, PA, 17961, USA , Orwigsburg (United States)
Published Article
Movement Ecology
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Jul 10, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s40462-021-00274-6
Springer Nature
  • Research


BackgroundMigrating birds experience weather conditions that change with time, which affect their decision to stop or resume migration. Soaring migrants are especially sensitive to changing weather conditions because they rely on the availability of environmental updrafts to subsidize flight. The timescale that local weather conditions change over is on the order of hours, while stopovers are studied at the daily scale, creating a temporal mismatch.MethodsWe used GPS satellite tracking data from four migratory Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) populations, paired with local weather data, to determine if the decision to stopover by migrating Turkey Vultures was in response to changing local weather conditions. We analyzed 174 migrations of 34 individuals from 2006 to 2019 and identified 589 stopovers based on variance of first passage times. We also investigated if the extent of movement activity correlated with average weather conditions experienced during a stopover, and report general patterns of stopover use by Turkey Vultures between seasons and across populations.ResultsStopover duration ranged from 2 h to more than 11 days, with 51 % of stopovers lasting < 24 h. Turkey Vultures began stopovers immediately in response to changes in weather variables that did not favor thermal soaring (e.g., increasing precipitation fraction and decreasing thermal updraft velocity) and their departure from stopovers was associated with improvements in weather that favored thermal development. During stopovers, proportion of activity was negatively associated with precipitation but was positively associated with temperature and thermal updraft velocity.ConclusionsThe rapid response of migrating Turkey Vultures to changing weather conditions indicates weather-avoidance is one of the major functions of their stopover use. During stopovers, however, the positive relationship between proportion of movement activity and conditions that promote thermal development suggests not all stopovers are used for weather-avoidance. Our results show that birds are capable of responding rapidly to their environment; therefore, for studies interested in external drivers of weather-related stopovers, it is essential that stopovers be identified at fine temporal scales.

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