Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 391–402

The nature of the migration route shapes physiological traits and aerodynamic properties in a migratory songbird

  • Anna-Marie Corman
  • Franz Bairlein
  • Heiko Schmaljohann
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-013-1653-z

Cite this article as:
Corman, AM., Bairlein, F. & Schmaljohann, H. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2014) 68: 391. doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1653-z


Migration distance is supposed to represent an important selection pressure shaping physiological and morphological properties. Previous work has focussed on this effect, while the importance of ecological barriers in this context has been rarely considered. We studied two subspecies of a migratory songbird, the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe oenanthe and O. o. leucorhoa L.), on an island in the North Sea. The former subspecies reaches their Scandinavian breeding areas after a short sea crossing, whereas leucorhoa northern wheatears cross the North Atlantic towards Iceland, Greenland or Canada. Physiological traits (fuel deposition rate) and wings’ aerodynamic properties (wing pointedness independent of body size), both affecting migration speed, were hypothesized to be more pronounced in leucorhoa than in oenanthe northern wheatears. Within subspecies, the physiological and aerodynamic properties were hypothesized to explain arrival date at the stopover site with “fast migrants” arriving early. Physiological and aerodynamic properties in leucorhoa northern wheatears lead to a faster and less costly migration, favouring a sea crossing, but in trade-off lower flight manoeuvrability than in oenanthe birds. Wings’ aerodynamic properties affected the seasonal occurrence of leucorhoa females, whereas the physiological traits significantly influenced arrival date in oenanthe individuals. The less risky migration route in oenanthe birds with few short sea crossings may have favoured higher flight manoeuvrability for foraging (less pointed wings), in trade-off an energetically more costly flight. Hence, not the migration distance itself, but the presence/absence of a sea barrier presents an important selection pressure in migratory land birds favouring low flight costs.


Aerodynamic properties Differential timing Migration speed Northern wheatear Physiological traits Selection 

Supplementary material

265_2013_1653_MOESM1_ESM.docx (104 kb)
Appendix S1Estimation of wing area (DOCX 103 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna-Marie Corman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Franz Bairlein
    • 1
  • Heiko Schmaljohann
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Avian Research “Vogelwarte Helgoland”WilhelmshavenGermany
  2. 2.Research and Technology Centre WestcoastBüsumGermany

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