Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 145, Issue 2, pp 142–151 | Cite as

Migrating swans profit from favourable changes in wind conditions at low altitude

  • Marcel Klaassen
  • Jan H. Beekman
  • Jari Kontiokorpi
  • Roef J. W. Mulder
  • Bart A. Nolet
Original Article

Abstract

Because energy reserves limit flight range, wind assistance may be of crucial importance for migratory birds. We tracked eight Bewick’s swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii, using 95-g satellite transmitters with altimeters and activity sensors, during their spring migration from Denmark to northern Russia in 1996. During the 82 occasions where a swan’s location was recorded in flight, average flight altitude was 165 m a.s.l. with a maximum of 759 m a.s.l., despite winds often being more favourable at higher altitudes. We also counted Bewick’s swans departing from the Gulf of Finland and subsequently passing an observatory in the next major stop-over area 800 km further north in the White Sea, northern Russia, during the springs of 1994, 1995 and 1996. A comparison of these counts with wind data provided evidence for Bewick’s swans using favourable changes in wind conditions to embark on migration. Changes in the numbers of birds arriving in the White Sea correlated best with favourable changes in winds in the Gulf of Finland 1 day earlier. Again, migratory volume showed a correlation with winds at low altitudes only, despite wind conditions for the swans being more favourable at high altitudes. We conclude that the relatively large Bewick’s swan tends to gear its migration to wind conditions at low altitude only. We argue that Bewick’s swans do not climb to high altitudes because of mechanical and physiological limitations with respect to the generation of power for flight and to avoid rapid dehydration.

Keywords

Bewick’s swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii Migration Flight altitude Tailwind vector Satellite transmitters 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Bjarke Laubek, Jeroen Nienhuis, Erik Wessel, Stef van Rijn and Birte Hansen for help during catching. Peter and Hanne Laubek are acknowledged for kindly hosting an entire Dutch catch and film crew at their home in Denmark. We greatly benefited from information provided by our Russian colleagues in St. Petersburg and Petrozavodsk, notably V.A. Buzun, S.P. Rezvyi, G.A. Noskov and V.B. Zimin, about swan migration and ice conditions in spring in the Gulf of Finland and the great Karelian lakes Ladoga and Onega. We acknowledge the Meteorological Office, and in particular Pjotr A. Malygin of the Mud’yug weather station, for their hospitality and permission to make use of the observation tower. We also thank Valery A. Andreev of the Committee of Environment Protection and Natural Resources of Arkhangelsk Region for his valuable co-operation. Rudi Drent paved the way for studying migratory waterfowl on Mud’yug Island. Ânne Dekinga, Rudi Drent, Martin Epe, Anita Koolhaas, Oscar Langevoord, Martin Poot, Jeroen Nienhuis and Erik Wessel all spent long cold hours on the tower. Thomas Alerstam kindly allowed us access to his unpublished flight altitude data. Ten Dekkers, Harry Korthals and Melanie Paschke assisted in the careful analysis of the synoptic weather maps. Rudi Drent, Birgit Erni, Martin Green, Anders Hedenström and Felix Liechti gave valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This research was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO-grant 047–002–008), the Beijerinck-Popping Fonds, the Groninger Universiteits Fonds and the Fonds voor Onderzoek der Natuur. This is publication 3288 of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V.  2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcel Klaassen
    • 1
  • Jan H. Beekman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jari Kontiokorpi
    • 3
  • Roef J. W. Mulder
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bart A. Nolet
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for LimnologyNetherlands Institute of EcologyMaarssenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Zoological LaboratoryUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.SimpeleFinland

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