Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 154, Issue 2, pp 385–392 | Cite as

Orientation of shorebirds in relation to wind: both drift and compensation in the same region

  • Johanna GrönroosEmail author
  • Martin Green
  • Thomas Alerstam
Original Article


Migratory movements in air or water are strongly affected by wind and ocean currents and an animal which does not compensate for lateral flow will be drifted from its intended direction of movement. We investigated whether arctic shorebirds during autumn migration in the region of South Sweden and the southern Baltic Sea compensate for wind drift or allow themselves to be drifted when approaching a known goal area under different circumstances (over sea, over land, at low and high altitude) using two different approaches, visual telescope observations and tracking radar. The shorebirds showed clearly different responses to crosswinds along this short section (<200 km) of the migratory journey, from almost full drift when departing over the sea, followed by partial drift and almost full compensation at higher altitudes over land during later stages. Our study demonstrates that shorebirds are also remarkably variable in their response to crosswinds during short sections of their migratory journey. The recorded initial drift close to departure is probably not adaptive but rather a result of constraints in the capacity of the birds to compensate in some situations, e.g. in low-altitude climbing flight over the sea. We found no difference in orientation response to wind between adult and juvenile birds. This study indicates, in addition to adaptive orientation responses to wind, the importance of the non-adaptive wind drift that contributes to increasing the variability of drift/compensation behaviour between places that are separated by only short distances, depending on the local topographic and environmental conditions.


Migration Orientation Wind drift Compensation Shorebird 


Orientierung von Watvögeln im Verhältnis zum Wind: sowohl Drift als auch Kompensation in derselben Region

Zugbewegungen in der Luft oder im Wasser sind stark beeinflusst durch Wind oder Meeresströmungen, und ein Tier, das einen seitlichen Versatz nicht ausgleichen kann, wird von seiner angestrebten Bewegungsrichtung abgetrieben. Wir untersuchten, ob arktische Watvögel während des Herbstzugs in Südschweden und der südlichen Ostsee ihren Versatz durch Wind ausgleichen oder es zulassen, abgetrieben zu werden, wenn sie ein bekanntes Zielgebiet unter verschiedenen Bedingungen erreichen können (über See, über Land, in geringer oder großer Höhe). Wir setzten sowohl visuelle Beobachtung mit Teleskopen als auch Radartracking ein. Die Watvögel zeigten deutlich unterschiedliche Reaktionen auf Seitenwinde über diesen kurzen Abschnitt (<200 km) ihrer Zugroute, von fast vollständigem Abtreiben beim Aufbruch über See, gefolgt von einer teilweisen Drift und fast vollständigem Ausgleich der Seitenwinde bei größeren Höhen über Land während späterer Abschnitte. Unsere Untersuchung zeigt, dass Watvögel auch über kurze Abschnitte ihrer Zugroute bemerkenswert variabel sind in ihrer Reaktion auf Seitenwinde. Die festgestellte anfängliche Drift kurz nach dem Abflug ist wahrscheinlich keine Anpassungsleistung, sondern Einschränkung in der Möglichkeit der Vögel zum Ausgleich in bestimmten Situationen geschuldet, zum Beispiel im Steigflug in geringer Höhe über See. Wir fanden keine Unterschiede in der Reaktion auf Seitenwinde zwischen adulten und juvenilen Vögeln. Diese Untersuchung zeigt die Wichtigkeit nicht-adaptiver Wind-Drift, die neben adaptiven Reaktionen auf Seitenwinde die Variabilität des Drift/Kompensations-Verhaltens auch zwischen eng beieinander liegenden Orten beeinflusst.



We are very grateful to the staff at Ottenby Bird Observatory, especially Petter Olsson, for trapping Dunlin. We would also like to thank Janne Dahlén, Anton Arnesson and Christian Cederroth for their help in the field at Ottenby. J.G. obtained Ph.D. support from grants to Susanne Åkesson for which we are very grateful. Permission to perform this study was given by the Ethical Committee of Lund University (permissions no 14204-06 and 1427-10). One anonymous referee provided valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This study was financed by the Swedish Ornithological Society, Lunds Djurskyddsfond, Helge Ax:son Johnssons stiftelse, Lars Hiertas minne, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and the Royal Physiographic Society in Lund (grants to J.G.). The study was further supported by the Swedish Research Council (to T.A.). The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. This is report no. 260 from Ottenby Bird Observatory.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johanna Grönroos
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Green
    • 1
  • Thomas Alerstam
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden

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