Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 203, Issue 6–7, pp 411–429 | Cite as

How do energy stores and changes in these affect departure decisions by migratory birds? A critical view on stopover ecology studies and some future perspectives



In birds, accumulating energy is far slower than spending energy during flight. During migration, birds spend, therefore, most of the time at stopover refueling energy used during the previous flight. This elucidates why current energy stores and actual rate of accumulating energy are likely crucial factors influencing bird’s decision when to resume migration in addition to other intrinsic (sex, age) and extrinsic (predation, weather) factors modulating the decision within the innate migration program. After first summarizing how energy stores and stopover durations are generally determined, we critically review that high-energy stores and low rates of accumulating energy were significantly related to high departure probabilities in several bird groups. There are, however, also many studies showing no effect at all. Recent radio-tracking studies highlighted that migrants leave a site either to resume migration or to search for a better stopover location, so-called “landscape movements”. Erroneously treating such movements as departures increases the likelihood of type II errors which might mistakenly suggest no effect of either trait on departure. Furthermore, we propose that energy loss during the previous migratory flight in relation to bird’s current energy stores and migration strategy significantly affects its urge to refuel and hence its departure decision.


Departure Energy stores Rate of accumulating energy Stopover Migration 



This work was supported by a Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Grant awarded to HS (SCHM 2647/2-1). We thank one reviewer for very helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Avian Research “Vogelwarte Helgoland”WilhelmshavenGermany

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