Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 147, Issue 2, pp 202–211 | Cite as

Birds: blowin’ by the wind?

  • Felix LiechtiEmail author


Migration is a task that implies a route, a goal and a period of time. To achieve this task, it requires orientation abilities to find the goal and energy to cover the distance. Completing such a journey by flying through a moving airspace makes this relatively simple task rather complex. On the one hand birds have to avoid wind drift or have to compensate for displacements to reach the expected goal. On the other hand flight costs make up a large proportion of energy expenditure during migration and, consequently, have a decisive impact on the refuelling requirements and the time needed for migration. As wind speeds are of the same order of magnitude as birds’ air speeds, flight costs can easily be doubled or, conversely, halved by wind effects. Many studies have investigated how birds should or actually do react to winds aloft, how they avoid additional costs or how they profit from the winds for their journeys. This review brings together numerous theoretical and empirical studies investigating the flight behaviour of migratory birds in relation to the wind. The results of these studies corroborate that birds select for favourable wind conditions both at departure and aloft to save energy and that for some long-distance migrants a tail-wind is an indispensable support to cover large barriers. Compensation of lateral wind drift seems to vary between age classes, depending on their orientation capacities, and probably between species or populations, due to the variety of winds they face en route. In addition, it is discussed how birds might measure winds aloft, and how flight behaviour with respect to wind shall be tested with field data.


Bird migration Flight behaviour Flight costs Wind drift Wind influence Migratory strategies 



I an grateful to F. Bairlein, the organizer of the ESF meeting, for inviting me to the ESF congress and encouraging the preparation of this paper. I thank all of my colleagues for fruitful discussions and in particular B. Bruderer, L. Jenni and O. Hüppop for their valuable comments on the manuscript. S. Bader provided me with information on the global weather patterns, and J. Shamoun and E. van Loon drew my attention to the problem of calculating the wind-effect.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Swiss Ornithological InstituteSempachSwitzerland

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