Weather conditions promote route flexibility during open ocean crossing in a long-distance migratory raptor
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- Mellone, U., López-López, P., Limiñana, R. et al. Int J Biometeorol (2011) 55: 463. doi:10.1007/s00484-010-0368-3
Weather conditions are paramount in shaping birds’ migratory routes, promoting the evolution of behavioural plasticity and allowing for adaptive decisions on when to depart or stop during migration. Here, we describe and analyze the influence of weather conditions in shaping the sea-crossing stage of the pre-breeding journey made by a long-distance migratory bird, the Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), tracked by satellite telemetry from the wintering grounds in the Southern Hemisphere to the breeding sites in the Northern Hemisphere. As far as we know, the data presented here are the first report of repeated oceanic journeys of the same individuals in consecutive years. Our results show inter-annual variability in the routes followed by Eleonora’s falcons when crossing the Strait of Mozambique, between Madagascar and eastern continental Africa. Interestingly, our observations illustrate that individuals show high behavioural plasticity and are able to change their migration route from one year to another in response to weather conditions, thus minimising the risk of long ocean crossing by selecting winds blowing towards Africa for departure and changing the routes to avoid low pressure areas en route. Our results suggest that weather conditions can really act as obstacles during migration, and thus, besides ecological barriers, the migratory behaviour of birds could also be shaped by “meteorological barriers”. We briefly discuss orientation mechanisms used for navigation. Since environmental conditions during migration could cause carry-over effects, we consider that forecasting how global changes of weather patterns will shape the behaviour of migratory birds is of the utmost importance.