Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 147, Issue 2, pp 146–166

Can conditions experienced during migration limit the population levels of birds?



Populations of migratory birds are usually considered to be limited by conditions in breeding or wintering areas, but some might be limited by conditions encountered on migration. This could occur at stopover sites where competition for restricted food supplies can reduce subsequent survival or breeding success, or during the flights themselves, when adverse weather can occasionally kill large numbers of individuals. Competition for food could act in a density-dependent manner and help to regulate populations, whereas weather effects are more likely to act in a density-independent manner. The evidence for these views is explored in this paper. When preparing for migration, birds must normally obtain more food per day than usual, in order to accumulate the body reserves that fuel their flights. Birds often concentrate in large numbers at particular stopover sites, where food can become scarce, thus affecting migratory performance. Rates of weight gain, departure weights, and stopover durations often correlate with food supplies at stopover sites, sometimes influencing the subsequent survival and reproductive success of individuals, which can in turn affect subsequent breeding numbers. Many studies have provided evidence for interference and depletion competition at stopover sites, relatively few for migration conditions influencing the subsequent breeding or survival of individuals, and even fewer for effects on subsequent breeding numbers. Migrants in flight occasionally suffer substantial mortality in storms, especially over water, sometimes involving many thousands of birds at a time. Other mass mortalities have resulted from atypical ‘winter-like’ weather, occurring soon after the arrival of summer migrants in their breeding areas or just before their departure in autumn. Again, many thousands of birds at a time have been killed in such incidents, causing reductions of 30–90% in local breeding densities. In some bird species, migration-related events can at times have substantial effects on the year-to-year changes in breeding population levels. Nonetheless, the difficulties involved in investigating migrating birds at different points on their migration routes have so far limited the number of studies on the influence of events during migration periods on population levels.


Migration Migratory fattening Population regulation Stopover ecology Survival 

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Monks Wood Research StationCentre for Ecology and HydrologyHuntingdonUK

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