Migrating birds avoid flying through fog and low clouds
Different weather conditions are known to affect bird migration, yet the influence of fog and low clouds on migrating birds has been rarely examined so far, and hence, their impact on bird movement is not well understood. Fog avoidance could be a consequence of visual limitations within the fog or may be the outcome of deteriorated soaring conditions due to the obstruction of the sun. We carried out a radar study at the Strait of Messina, which is a bottleneck for migrating birds traversing the Central Mediterranean Sea, to determine if the intensity of diurnal soaring bird migration was influenced by fog and other weather variables. We recorded bird movements using an X-band radar, which can detect birds flying within the fog, and recorded weather conditions using local meteorological observations. We examined if bird passage rate (number of tracks/hour) at the radar site was influenced by fog, wind speed and direction, air temperature and the time of day. Our findings suggest that fog was the most important factor affecting bird migration intensity as recorded by the radar, indicating that birds actively avoided flying into fog. In addition, wind direction affected bird migration intensity, with lower numbers recorded with southerly tailwinds and higher numbers recorded with westerly crosswinds. Our findings highlight a consequence of widespread meteorological conditions, and of fog in particular, on migrating birds, with implications for bird migration navigation, path length and flight energetics.
KeywordsAvian long-distance migration Bird flight Ecological barrier Fog Radar Soaring raptors
This work was carried out in the framework of a study commissioned by Terna Rete Italia Spa to Ornis Italica. We thank Jack Ashton-Booth for reviewing the English text. We also thank Viviana Stanzione, Mauro Santini, Giacomo Biasi and Martina Scacco for their help during the fieldwork. We acknowledge the support provided by COST—European Cooperation in Science and Technology through the Action ES1305 “European Network for the Radar Surveillance of Animal Movement” (ENRAM). In particular, the manuscript writing was made during the short-term scientific mission of M. Panuccio: ECOST-STSM-ES1305-141116-081348.
M.P. was partially financed through a grant from Crowdfunding Platform “Universitiamo” of the University of Pavia for the project “Wings Over the Straits”.
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