Autumn migration of Montagu’s harriers Circus pygargus tracked by satellite telemetry
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Although there is a general understanding of Montagu’s harriers migration routes and wintering areas, detailed information on the species’ migration is still lacking. However, improvements in satellite tracking technology in recent years, have enabled the study of medium-sized species by means of satellite telemetry. In 2006, ten adult Montagu’s harriers were fitted with satellite transmitters in northeastern Spain and tracked during their autumn migration to their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. The migration took between 10 and 30 days, and the end point was determined using breakpoint regressions. Whereas some birds had stopovers of more than a week, others stayed at the same site for only 1 or 2 days at the most. The tagged birds ultimately established at wintering grounds located along the border of Mauritania with Mali and Senegal, a distance of nearly 3000 km from the breeding sites. These sites are situated within a small range of latitudes (14° and 17°N), although distributed over a wider range of longitudes (−15°E and −4°E), with some birds occupying sites more than 1000 km apart. The distance covered in 1 day during the migration ranged between 93 and 219 km, with peaks of traveling speed of up to 65 km/h. Harriers were recorded traveling only during daytime, covering the longest distances in the late afternoon, suggesting that they are daytime migrants. Most of the distance was covered between 1500 and 2000 hours, and no traveling was recorded between 2000 and 0500 hours. During migration, harriers flew close to the ground (40–100 m on average). Improved knowledge of the harriers’ exact wintering sites may provide insights on the problems Montagu’s harriers face during the winter, highlighting the need to take into account what happens in both the breeding and wintering grounds to implement successful conservation measures.