Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 12, pp 1705-1715

First online:

Post-breeding migration in male great bustards: low tolerance of the heaviest Palaearctic bird to summer heat

  • Juan C. AlonsoAffiliated withDepartamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales CSIC Email author 
  • , Carlos PalacínAffiliated withDepartamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales CSIC
  • , Javier A. AlonsoAffiliated withDepartamento de Zoología y Antropología Física, Facultad de Biología, Universidad Complutense
  • , Carlos A. MartínAffiliated withDepartamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales CSICInstituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)

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Radio tracking of 142 males captured at 44 leks in Spain showed that partial migration of great bustard males in summer is a widespread behaviour in many Iberian populations, in contrast to their previously assumed sedentariness. A variable number of males migrated immediately after mating to summering areas with lower temperatures and human population densities and more trees and rainfall levels than the breeding sites. Birds selected there fields with trees and sunflower crops which provided shade during the hottest midday hours and protective cover against predators. Males breeding in areas with higher July temperatures had a higher tendency to migrate, and males from hotter, southern regions migrated longer distances than those from milder, northern regions and showed a preferred northward direction. These results confirmed various predictions from the weather sensitivity hypothesis, suggesting that summer migration of great bustard males represents primarily an adaptation to escape the summer heat of most breeding areas in central and southern Iberia. The hypothesis that males migrated to benefit from higher food availability at the summering areas could not be rejected by our results. Finally, migrating males also gained more tranquillity during the post-breeding moult due to the lower human population density at the summering areas. Summer migration of Iberian great bustard males may thus be interpreted as a form of behavioural thermoregulation which has not been described for other Palaearctic populations of this species or for other bird species breeding in temperate latitudes.


Partial migration Summer migration Weather sensitivity hypothesis Great bustard Otis tarda