Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 7, pp 1353–1365 | Cite as

Timing and flight mode of departure in migrating European bee-eaters in relation to multi-scale meteorological processes

  • Nir SapirEmail author
  • Martin Wikelski
  • Roni Avissar
  • Ran Nathan
Original Paper


Understanding departure decisions of migratory birds and the environmental factors affecting them is important for predicting their distribution, abundance, and arrival times to breeding and wintering areas. In the past, methodological difficulties to obtain fine-scale bird departure and meteorological data have limited testing the multi-scale effects of meteorology on bird departure during migration. We investigated departure timing of European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) staging in southern Israel, identified their departure flight mode (flapping or soaring) using radio telemetry, and measured local meteorological conditions to study if bird departure was affected by these. Departure timing was examined using a timescale analysis design. The conditions before, during, and after the time of departure were compared using timescales of 24 h, 6 h, 1 h, and 10 min and in relation to bird flight mode. At the between-days timescale, barometric pressure at departure time was significantly lower compared with 2–1 day earlier, whereas temperature at departure was significantly higher compared with 3–2 days earlier. Temperature at departure was also higher compared with 6 h and 3–2 h earlier. Tailwind assistance had no significant effect at any timescale. Soaring birds departed at significantly higher temperature compared with flapping birds. We suggest that bee-eater departure is tuned to the infrequent passage of warm atmospheric depressions at the between-days timescale and with an increasing temperature trend within these days enabling the birds to use energetically cheap soaring flight. We thus suggest that energetic considerations dictate the departure decisions of migrating European bee-eaters.


Arava Valley Atmosphere dynamics Biotelemetry Bird migration Cross-country flight Decision rules 



We would like to thank Reuven Yosef and Tzadok Tzemah from the International Birding and Ringing Center in Eilat (IBRCE) for their hospitality and assistance with bird trapping, Bill Cochran and Itzik Simhayof for their help in constructing the tracking systems, and Ofir Altstein, David Troupin, Adi Ben-Nun, Adena Brickman and members of the Movement Ecology Lab, and tracking teams for their assistance in the field and lab. We would like to thank the Israeli Meteorological Service and especially Amos Porat and the meteorology unit of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research Ben-Gurion University for providing the meteorological data. This work was supported by the US–Israel Binational Science Foundation (grant no. 229/2002 and 124/2004), the Ring Foundation for Environmental Research, and the Robert Szold Fund for Applied Science. N.S. was supported by two Rieger–JNF fellowships and a Fulbright doctoral dissertation travel fellowship.

Ethical standards

Bird trapping permits were obtained from the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority (permits 2005/22055, 2006/25555) and the experimental procedure was approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (permit NS-06-07-2).

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nir Sapir
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Martin Wikelski
    • 2
    • 3
  • Roni Avissar
    • 4
  • Ran Nathan
    • 1
  1. 1.Movement Ecology Laboratory, Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology, Alexander Silberman Institute of Life SciencesThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for OrnithologyVogelwarte RadolfzellRadolfzellGermany
  3. 3.Department of BiologyKonstanz UniversityKonstanzGermany
  4. 4.Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  5. 5.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California—BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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