Obligatory barrier crossing and adaptive fuel management in migratory birds: the case of the Atlantic crossing in Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe)
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- Delingat, J., Bairlein, F. & Hedenström, A. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2008) 62: 1069. doi:10.1007/s00265-007-0534-8
Behaviour on migration was often suggested to be selected for time-minimising strategies. Current optimality models predict that optimal fuel loads at departure from stopover sites should increase with increasing fuel deposition rates. We modified such models for the special case of the east Atlantic crossing of the Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). From optimality theory, we predict that optimal time-minimising behaviour in front of such a barrier should result in a positive correlation between fuel deposition rates and departure fuel loads only above a certain threshold, which is the minimum fuel load (fmin) required for the barrier crossing. Using a robust range equation, we calculated the minimum fuel loads for different barrier crossings and predict that time-minimising wheatears should deposit a minimum of 24% fuel in relation to lean body mass (m0) for the sea crossing between Iceland and Scotland. Fuel loads of departing birds in autumn in Iceland reached this value only marginally but showed positive correlation between fuel deposition rate (FDR) and departure fuel load (DFL). Birds at Fair Isle (Scotland) in spring, which were heading towards Iceland or Greenland, were significantly heavier and even showed signs of overloading with fuel loads up to 50% of lean body mass. Departure decisions of Icelandic birds correlated significantly with favourable wind situations when assuming a migration direction towards Spain; however, the low departure fuel loads contradict a direct non-stop flight.