Is wind drift in migrating barnacle and brent geese, Branta leucopsis and Branta bernicla, adaptive or non-adaptive?
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Whether migrating birds compensate for wind drift or not has been discussed frequently during the last decades. Observed behaviours seem to differ between species and situations. Even though complete compensation allows a bird to fly the shortest distance during its migration, this is not necessarily the optimal solution in all cases. There are certain situations when drifting with the wind, and thus getting higher groundspeed, will be more beneficial, i.e. adaptive drift. In this article, I analyse flight directions of spring migrating barnacle and brent geese, tracked by radar and optical range finder, and compare these with prevailing winds to see if these birds compensate or drift with the wind. I also use wind data from the days when the trackings were made to construct expected flight paths to see whether wind drift or compensation would be the most beneficial behaviour. The geese were found to drift partially with the wind. The drift effect was concluded to be true partial drift, i.e. not pseudodrift or drift forced by strong winds. The drift was not found to be of any obvious adaptive value, as the geese drifted irrespective of the strategy that would have been most beneficial to them. None of the situations in which drift is predicted to be adaptive was applicable to the birds and migration days in this study. A possible explanation for the observed pattern is that since these birds usually have access to favourable winds during their spring migration, selection pressures for adaptive drift or compensation behaviours might be weak.
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