Orientation in Birds

Volume 60 of the series Experientia Supplementum pp 226-249

Wind and Orientation of Migrating Birds: A Review

  • W. John RichardsonAffiliated withLGL Ltd., environmental research associates

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Migratory flights are strongly affected by wind, and birds have developed many adaptations to cope with wind effects. By day, overland migrants at high altitudes may often allow crosswinds to drift their tracks laterally from the preferred heading. In contrast, many birds at low altitude adjust their headings to compensate for drift, and may overcompensate to allow for previous drift. The relative motion of landscape features is probably used to sense drift, at least by day. By night, some overland migrants compensate fully for drift, but others do not. Compensation may be more common where there are prominent topographic features. Over the sea, compensation is rarely if ever total; wave patterns may allow partial compensation. Other adaptations can include reduction of drift by flying at times and/or altitudes without strong crosswinds. Some birds recognize the need to change course to allow for previous wind displacement, and reorient at least roughly toward the original route or destination. Some juveniles en route to previously unvisited wintering grounds seem to have this ability, but corroboration is needed. Such reorientation may not require a true navigation ability. However, some birds have unexplained abilities to sense the wind while aloft.