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MigrationFlock

Flock of Barnacle Geese during autumn migration

File:BrantaLeucopsisMigration.jpg
File:Migrationroutes.svg

Bird migration is an example of animal migration, and the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat, or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular (nomadism, invasions, irruptions) or in only one direction (dispersal, movement of young away from natal area). Migration is marked by its annual seasonality.[1]

In contrast, birds that are non-migratory are said to be resident or sedentary. Approximately 1800 of the world's 10,000 bird species are long-distance migrants.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

General patterns

File:101111 Maison 007.jpg
File:Waders in flight Roebuck Bay.jpg

Many bird populations migrate long distances along a flyway. The most common pattern involves flying north in the spring to breed in the temperate or Arctic summer and returning in the autumn to wintering grounds in warmer regions to the south. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere the directions are reversed, but there is less land area in the far South to support long-distance migration.

The primary motivation for migration appears to be food; for example, some hummingbirds choose not to migrate if fed through the winter. Also, the longer days of the northern summer provide extended time for breeding birds to feed their young. This helps diurnal birds to produce larger clutches than related non-migratory species that remain in the tropics. As the days shorten in autumn, the birds return to warmer regions where the available food supply varies little with the season.

These advantages offset the high stress, physical exertion costs, and other risks of the migration such as predation. Predation can be heightened during migration: the Eleonora's Falcon, which breeds on Mediterranean islands, has a very late breeding season, coordinated with the autumn passage of southbound passerine migrants, which it feeds to its young. A similar strategy is adopted by the Greater Noctule bat, which preys on nocturnal passerine migrants.[2][3][4] The higher concentrations of migrating birds at stopover sites make them prone to parasites and pathogens, which require a heightened immune response.[5]

Within a species not all populations may be migratory; this is known as "partial migration". Partial migration is very common in the southern continents; in Australia, 44% of non-passerine birds and 32% of passerine species are partially migratory.[6] In some species, the population at higher latitudes tends to be migratory and will often winter at lower latitude. The migrating birds bypass the latitudes where other populations may be sedentary, where suitable wintering habitats may already be occupied.

This is an example of leap-frog migration.[7] Many fully migratory species show leap-frog migration (birds that nest at higher latitudes spend the winter at lower latitudes), and many show the alternative, "chain migration" where populations 'slide' more evenly North and South without reversing order.

Within a population, it is common for different ages and/or sexes to have different patterns of timing and distance. Only the female Chaffinches in Scandinavia migrate, with the males staying resident. This has given rise to the latter's specific name of coelebs, a bachelor.

Most migrations begin with the birds starting off in a broad front. Often, this front narrows into one or more preferred routes termed flyways. These routes typically follow mountain ranges or coastlines, sometimes rivers, and may take advantage of updrafts and other wind patterns or avoid geographical barriers such as large stretches of open water. The specific routes may be genetically programmed or learned to varying degrees. The routes taken on forward and return migration are often different.[5] A common pattern in North America is clockwise migration, where birds flying North tend to be further West, and flying South tend to shift Eastwards.

Many, if not most, birds migrate in flocks. For larger birds, flying in flocks reduces the energy cost. Geese in a V-formation may conserve 12–20 % of the energy they would need to fly alone.[8][9] Red Knots Calidris canutus and Dunlins Calidris alpina were found in radar studies to fly 5 km per hour faster in flocks than when they were flying alone.[5]

Birds fly at varying altitudes during migration. An expedition to Mt. Everest found skeletons of Pintail and Black-tailed Godwit at 5000 m (16,400 ft) on the Khumbu Glacier.[10] Bar-headed Geese have been recorded by GPS flying at up to 6,540 metres while crossing the Himalayas, at the same time engaging in the highest rates of climb to altitude for any bird. Anecdotal reports of them flying much higher have yet to be corroborated with any direct evidence.[11] Seabirds fly low over water but gain altitude when crossing land, and the reverse pattern is seen in landbirds.[12][13] However most bird migration is in the range of 150 m (500 ft) to 600 m (2000 ft). Bird-hit aviation records from the United States show most collisions occur below 600 m (2000 ft) and almost none above 1800 m (6000 ft).[14]

Bird migration is not limited to birds that can fly. Most species of penguin migrate by swimming. These routes can cover over 1000 km. Blue Grouse Dendragapus obscurus perform altitudinal migration mostly by walking. Emus in Australia have been observed to undertake long-distance movements on foot during droughts.[5]

Historical views

Records of bird migration were made 3,000 years ago by Hesiod, Homer, Herodotus and Aristotle. The Bible also notes migrations, as in the Book of Job (39:26 ), where the inquiry is made: "Doth the hawk fly by Thy wisdom and stretch her wings toward the south?" The author of Jeremiah (8:7 ) wrote: "The stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed time; and the turtledove, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming."

Aristotle noted that cranes traveled from the steppes of Scythia to marshes at the headwaters of the Nile. Pliny the Elder, in his Historia Naturalis, repeats Aristotle's observations. Aristotle however suggested that swallows and other birds hibernated. This belief persisted as late as 1878, when Elliott Coues listed the titles of no less than 182 papers dealing with the hibernation of swallows. It was not until early in the nineteenth century that migration as an explanation for the winter disappearance of birds from northern climes was accepted.[15]

Long-distance land bird migration

Many species of land migratory birds migrate very long distances, the most common pattern being for birds to breed in the temperate or arctic northern hemisphere and winter in warmer regions, often in the tropics or the temperate zones of the southern hemisphere.

There is a strong genetic component to migration in terms of timing and route, but this may be modified by environmental influences. An interesting example where a change of migration route has occurred because of such a geographical barrier is the trend for some Blackcaps in central Europe to migrate west and winter in Britain rather than cross the Alps. Theoretical analyses, summarised by Alerstam (2001), show that detours that increase flight distance by up to 20% will often be adaptive on aerodynamic grounds - a bird that loads itself with food in order to cross a long barrier flies less efficiently. However some species show circuitous migratory routes that reflect historical range expansions and are far from optimal in ecological terms. An example is the migration of continental populations of Swainson's Thrush, which fly far east across North America before turning south via Florida to reach northern South America; this route is believed to be the consequence of a range expansion that occurred about 10,000 years ago. Detours may also be caused by differential wind conditions, predation risk, or other factors.

The advantage of the migration strategy is that, in the long days of the northern summer, breeding birds have more hours to feed their young on often abundant food supplies, particularly insects. As the days shorten in autumn and food supplies become scarce, the birds can return to warmer regions where the length of the day varies less and there is an all year round food supply. Most of the passerine migrants fly by night in small flocks. During dusk prior to migration, they show a restlessness which is termed zugunruhe. They may also sing at night during this period of pre-migration restlessness.

The downside of migration is the hazards of the journey, especially when difficult habitats such as deserts and oceans must be crossed, and weather conditions may be adverse.

The risks of predation are also high. The Eleonora's Falcon which breeds on Mediterranean islands has a very late breeding season, timed so that autumn perching bird migrants can be hunted to feed its young.

Whether a particular species migrates depends on a number of factors. The climate of the breeding area is important, and few species can cope with the harsh winters of inland Canada or northern Eurasia. Thus the Blackbird Turdus merula is migratory in Scandinavia, but not in the milder climate of southern Europe.

The nature of the staple food is also important. Most specialist insect eaters are long-distance migrants, and have little choice but to head south in winter.

Sometimes the factors are finely balanced. The Whinchat Saxicola rubetra of Europe and the Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maura of Asia are a long-distance migrants wintering in the tropics, whereas their close relative, the European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola is a resident bird in most of its range, and moves only short distances from the colder north and east.

Certain areas, because of their location, have become famous as watchpoints for migrating birds. Examples are the Point Pelee National Park in Canada, and Spurn in England. Drift migration of birds blown off course by the wind can result in "falls" of large numbers of migrants at coastal sites.

Another cause of birds occurring outside their normal ranges is the "spring overshoot" in which birds returning to their breeding areas overshoot and end up further north than intended.

A mechanism which can lead to great rarities turning up as vagrants thousands of kilometres out of range is reverse migration, where the genetic programming of young birds fails to work properly.

Recent research suggests that long-distance passerine migrants are of South American and African, rather than northern hemisphere, evolutionary origins. They are effectively southern species coming north to breed rather than northern species going south to winter.

Broad-winged long distance migrants

Some large broad-winged birds rely on thermal columns of rising hot air to enable them to soar. These include many birds of prey such as vultures, eagles and buzzards, but also storks.

Migratory species in these groups have great difficulty crossing large bodies of water, since thermals can only form over land, and these birds cannot maintain active flight for long distances.

The Mediterranean and other seas therefore present a major obstacle to soaring birds, which are forced to cross at the narrowest points. This means that massive numbers of large raptors and storks pass through areas such as Gibraltar, Falsterbo and the Bosphorus at migration times. Commoner species, such as the Honey Buzzard, can be counted in hundreds of thousands in autumn.

Other barriers, such as mountain ranges, can also cause funnelling, particularly of large diurnal migrants.

Short-distance land bird migration

The long-distance migrants in the previous section are effectively genetically programmed to respond to changing lengths of days. However many species move shorter distances, but may do so only in response to harsh weather conditions.

Thus mountain and moorland breeders, such as Wallcreeper and White-throated Dipper, may move only altitudinally to escape the cold higher ground. Other species such as Merlin and Skylark will move further to the coast or to a more southerly region.

Species like the Chaffinch are not migratory in Britain, but will move south or to Ireland in very cold weather. Interestingly, in Scandinavia, the female of this species migrates, but not the male, giving rise to the specific name coelebs, a bachelor.

Short-distance passerine migrants have two evolutionary origins. Those which have long-distance migrants in the same family, such as the Chiffchaff, are species of southern hemisphere origins which have progressively shortened their return migration so that they stay in the northern hemisphere.

Those species which have no long-distance migratory relatives, such as the waxwings, are effectively moving in response to winter weather, rather than enhanced breeding opportunities.

Wildfowl and waders

The typical image of migration is of northern landbirds such as swallows and birds of prey making long flights to the tropics. Many northern-breeding ducks, geese and swans are also long-distance migrants, but need only to move from their arctic breeding grounds far enough south to escape frozen waters.

This means that most wildfowl remain in the Northern hemisphere, but in milder countries. For example, the Pink-footed Goose migrates from Iceland to Britain and neighbouring countries. Usually wintering grounds are traditional and learned by the young when they migrate with their parents.

Some ducks, such as the Garganey, do move completely or partially into the tropics.

A similar situation occurs with waders (called "shorebirds" in North America). Many species, such as Dunlin and Western Sandpiper, undertake long movements from their arctic breeding grounds to warmer locations in the same hemisphere, but others such as Semipalmated Sandpiper travel huge distances to the tropics.

Most of the wildfowl are large and powerful, and even the waders are strong fliers. This means that birds wintering in temperate regions have the capacity to make further shorter movements in the event of particularly inclement weather.

The same considerations about barriers and detours that apply to long-distance land-bird migration apply to water birds, but in reverse: a large area of land without bodies of water that offer feeding sites is a barrier to a water bird. Open sea may also be a barrier to a bird that feeds in coastal waters. Detours avoiding such barriers are observed: for example, Brent Geese migrating from the Taymyr Peninsula to the Wadden Sea travel via the White Sea coast and the Baltic Sea rather than directly across the Arctic Ocean and northern Scandinavia.

For some species of waders, migration success depends on the availability of certain key food resources at stopover points along the migration route. This gives the migrants an opportunity to "refuel" for the next leg of the voyage. Some examples of important stopover locations are the Bay of Fundy and Delaware Bay.

Some Alaskan Bar-tailed Godwits have the longest non-stop flight of any migrant, flying 11,000 km to their New Zealand wintering grounds (BTO News 258: 3, 2005). Prior to migration, 55% of their bodyweight is stored fat to fuel this uninterrupted journey.

Seabirds

Arctic terns

Arctic Terns

Much of what has been said in the previous section applies to many seabirds. Some, such as the Black Guillemot and some gulls, are quite sedentary; others, such as most of the terns and auks breeding in the temperate northern hemisphere, move south varying distances in winter. The Arctic Tern has the longest-distance migration of any bird, and sees more daylight than any other, moving from its arctic breeding grounds to the antarctic wintering areas. One Arctic Tern, ringed (banded) as a chick on the Farne Islands off the British east coast, reached Melbourne, Australia in just three months from fledging, a sea journey of over 22,000 km (14,000 miles). Seabirds, of course, have the advantage that they can feed on migration.

The most pelagic species, mainly in the 'tubenose' order Procellariiformes, are great wanderers, and the albatrosses of the southern oceans may circle the globe as they ride the "roaring forties" outside the breeding season. The tubenoses in general spread thinly over large areas of open ocean, but congregate when food becomes available. Many of them are also among the longest-distance migrants; Sooty Shearwaters nesting on the Falkland Islands migrate 14,000 km (9,000 miles) between the breeding colony and the North Atlantic Ocean off Norway, and some Manx Shearwaters do the same journey in reverse. As they are long-lived birds, they may cover enormous distances during their lives; one record-breaking Manx Shearwater is calculated to have flown 8 million km (5 million miles) during its over-50 year lifespan.

Pelagic birding trips attract petrels and other procellarids by tipping "chum", a mixture of fish oil and offal, into the sea. Within minutes, a previously apparently empty ocean is full of petrels, fulmars and shearwaters attracted by the food.

A few seabirds, such as Wilson's Petrel and Great Shearwater, breed in the southern hemisphere and migrate north in the southern winter.

The tropics

In the tropics there is little variation in the length of day throughout the year, and it is always warm enough for an adequate food supply. Apart from the seasonal movements of northern hemisphere wintering species, most species are in the broadest sense resident. However many species undergo movements of varying distances depending on the rainfall.

Many tropical regions have wet and dry seasons, the monsoons of India being perhaps the best known example. An example of a bird whose distribution is rain associated is the Woodland Kingfisher of west Africa.

There are a few species, notably cuckoos, which are genuine long-distance migrants within the tropics. An example is the Lesser Cuckoo, which breeds in India and winters in Africa.

In the high mountains, such as the Himalayas and the Andes, there are also seasonal altitudinal movements in many species.

Australasia

Bird migration is primarily, but not entirely, a Northern-Hemisphere phenomenon. In the Southern Hemisphere, seasonal migration tends to be much less marked. There are several reasons for this.

First, the largely uninterrupted expanses of land mass or ocean tend not to funnel migrations into narrow and obvious pathways, making them less obvious to the human observer. Second, at least for terrestrial birds, climatic regions tend to fade into one another over a long distance rather than be entirely separate: this means that rather than make long trips over unsuitable habitat to reach particular destinations, migrant species can usually travel at a relaxed pace, feeding as they go. Short of banding studies it is often not obvious that the birds seen in any particular locality as the seasons change are in fact different members of the same species passing through, gradually working their way north or south.

Relatively few Australasian birds migrate in the way that so many European and North American species do. This is largely a matter of geography: the Australasian climate has seasonal extremes no less compelling than those of Europe; however, they are far less predictable and tend to take place over periods both shorter and longer. A couple of weeks of heavy rain in one part or another of the usually dry centre of Australia, for example, produces dramatic plant and invertebrate growth, attracting birds from all directions. This can happen at any time of year, summer or winter and, in any given area, may not happen again for a decade or more.

Broader climatic extremes are highly unpredictable also: expected seasonal heat or rain arrives or does not arrive, depending on the vagaries of El Niño. It is commonplace to have stretches of five or ten years at a time when winter rains do not eventuate during the El Niño cycle, and equally common to have La Niña periods which turn arid zones into areas of lush grass and shallow lakes. Long distance migration requires a heavy investment in time and body mass—and, given the random nature of El Niño, an investment with an uncertain return.

In broad terms, Australasian birds tend to be sedentary or nomadic, moving on whenever conditions become unfavourable to whichever area happens to be more suitable at the time.

There are many exceptions, however. Some species make the long haul to breed in far distant northern climes every year, notably swifts, and a great many wading birds that breed in the Arctic Circle during the southern winter.

Many others arrive for the southern spring and summer to breed, then fly to tropical northern Australia, New Guinea, or the islands of South East Asia for the Southern winter. Examples include cuckoos, the Satin Flycatcher, the Dollarbird, and the Rainbow Bee-eater.

Others again are altitudinal migrants, moving to higher country during summer, returning to warmer areas in winter such as several robins, or travel north and south with the seasons but within a relatively restricted range. The tiny 10 cm Silvereye is an example: most of the southernmost Tasmanian race crosses the 200 miles of Bass Strait after breeding to disperse into Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and even southern Queensland, replacing the normal residents who fly still further north, following the band of fertile country along the coast, feeding through the day and travelling mostly at night. The northernmost populations, however, are nomadic rather than migratory, as are the Silvereyes of southern Western Australia, which is bounded by thousands of miles of desert to the north and east, and sea to the south and west.

Irruptions and dispersal

Sometimes circumstances such as a good breeding season followed by a food source failure the following year lead to irruptions in which large numbers of a species move far beyond the normal range. Bohemian Waxwing and Common Crossbills show this unpredictable variation in annual numbers.

The temperate zones of the southern continents have extensive arid areas, particularly in Australia and western southern Africa, and weather-driven movements are common but not always predictable. A couple of weeks of heavy rain in one part or another of the usually dry centre of Australia, for example, causes dramatic plant and invertebrate growth, attracting birds from all directions. This can happen at any time of year, and, in any given area, may not happen again for a decade or more, depending on the frequency of El Niño and La Niña periods.

File:Rainbowbeeeater.jpg

Bird migration is primarily, but not entirely, a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon. In the Southern Hemisphere, seasonal migration tends to be much less obvious. There are several reasons for this.

First, the largely uninterrupted expanses of land mass or ocean tend not to funnel migrations into narrow and obvious pathways, making them less obvious to the human observer. Second, at least for terrestrial birds, climatic regions tend to fade into one another over a long distance rather than be entirely separate: this means that rather than make long trips over unsuitable habitat to reach particular destinations, migrant species can usually travel at a relaxed pace, feeding as they go. Short of banding studies it is often not obvious that the birds seen in any particular locality as the seasons change are in fact different members of the same species passing through, gradually working their way north or south.

Many species do in fact breed in the temperate southern hemisphere regions and winter further north in the tropics. The southern African Greater Striped Swallow, and the Australian Satin Flycatcher, Dollarbird, and Rainbow Bee-eater for example, winters well north of their breeding range.


Physiology and control

The control of migration, its timing and response are genetically controlled and appear to be a primitive trait that is present even in non-migratory species of birds. The ability to navigate and orient themselves during migration is a much more complex phenomenon that may include both endogenous programs as well as learning.[16]

Timing

The primary physiological cue for migration are the changes in the day length. These changes are also related to hormonal changes in the birds.

In the period before migration, many birds display higher activity or Zugunruhe (German: migratory restlessness

) as well as physiological changes such as increased fat deposition. The occurrence of Zugunruhe even in cage-raised birds with no environmental cues (e.g. shortening of day and falling temperature) has pointed to the role of circannual endogenous programs in controlling bird migrations. Caged birds display a preferential flight direction that corresponds with the migratory direction they would take in nature, even changing their preferential direction at roughly the same time their wild conspecifics change course.

In species where there is polygyny and with considerable sexual dimorphism, there is a tendency for males to return earlier to the breeding sites than their females. This is termed as protandry.[17][18]

Orientation and navigation

File:Bar-tailed Godwit migration.jpg
Main article: Animal navigation

Navigation is based on a variety of senses. Many birds have been shown to use a sun compass. Using the sun for direction involves the need for making compensation based on the time. Navigation has also been shown to be based on a combination of other abilities including the ability to detect magnetic fields (magnetoception), use visual landmarks as well as olfactory cues.[19]

Long distance migrants are believed to disperse as young birds and form attachments to potential breeding sites and to favourite wintering sites. Once the site attachment is made they show high site-fidelity, visiting the same wintering sites year after year.[20]

The ability of birds to navigate during migrations cannot be fully explained by endogenous programming, even with the help of responses to environmental cues. The ability to successfully perform long-distance migrations can probably only be fully explained with an accounting for the cognitive ability of the birds to recognize habitats and form mental maps. Satellite tracking of day migrating raptors such as Ospreys and Honey Buzzards has shown that older individuals are better at making corrections for wind drift.[21]

As the circannual patterns indicate, there is a strong genetic component to migration in terms of timing and route, but this may be modified by environmental influences. An interesting example where a change of migration route has occurred because of such a geographical barrier is the trend for some Blackcaps in central Europe to migrate west and winter in Britain rather than cross the Alps.

Migratory birds may use two electromagnetic tools to find their destinations: one that is entirely innate and another that relies on experience. A young bird on its first migration flies in the correct direction according to the Earth's magnetic field, but does not know how far the journey will be. It does this through a radical pair mechanism whereby chemical reactions in special photo pigments sensitive to long wavelengths are affected by the field. Note that although this only works during daylight hours, it does not use the position of the sun in any way. At this stage the bird is similar to a boy scout with a compass but no map, until it grows accustomed to the journey and can put its other facilities to use. With experience they learn various landmarks and this "mapping" is done by magnetites in the trigeminal system, which tell the bird how strong the field is. Because birds migrate between northern and southern regions, the magnetic field strengths at different latitudes let it interpret the radical pair mechanism more accurately and let it know when it has reached its destination.[22] More recent research has found a neural connection between the eye and "Cluster N", the part of the forebrain that is active during migrational orientation, suggesting that birds may actually be able to see the magnetic field of the earth.[23][24]

Vagrancy

Migrating birds can lose their way and appear outside their normal ranges. This can be due to flying past their destinations as in the "spring overshoot" in which birds returning to their breeding areas overshoot and end up further north than intended. Reverse migration, where the genetic programming of young birds fails to work properly, can lead to great rarities turning up as vagrants thousands of kilometres out of range. Certain areas, because of their location, have become famous as watchpoints for migrating birds. Examples are the Point Pelee National Park in Canada, and Spurn in England. Drift migration of birds blown off course by the wind can result in "falls" of large numbers of migrants at coastal sites.

A related phenomenon called "abmigration" involves birds from one region joining similar birds from a different breeding region in the common winter grounds and then migrating back along with the new population. This is especially common in some waterfowl, which shift from one flyway to another.[25]

Migration conditioning

It has been possible to teach a migration route to a flock of birds, for example in re-introduction schemes. After a trial with Canada Geese, microlight aircraft were used in the US to teach safe migration routes to reintroduced Whooping Cranes.[26][27]

Adaptations

Birds need to alter their metabolism in order to meet the demands of migration. The storage of energy through the accumulation of fat and the control of sleep in nocturnal migrants require special physiological adaptations. In addition, the feathers of a bird suffer from wear-and-tear and require to be molted. The timing of this molt - usually once a year but sometimes two - varies with some species molting prior to moving to their winter grounds and others molting prior to returning to their breeding grounds.[28][29] Apart from physiological adaptations, migration sometimes requires behavioural changes such as flying in flocks to reduce the energy used in migration or the risk of predation.[30]

Evolutionary and ecological factors

Migration in birds is highly labile and is believed to have developed independently in many avian lineages.[31] While it is agreed that the behavioral and physiological adaptations necessary for migration are under genetic control, some authors have argued that no genetic change is necessary for migratory behavior to develop in a sedentary species because the genetic framework for migratory behavior exists in nearly all avian lineages.[32] This explains the rapid appearance of migratory behavior after the most recent glacial maximum.[33]

Whether a particular species migrates depends on a number of factors. The climate of the breeding area is important, and few species can cope with the harsh winters of inland Canada or northern Eurasia. Thus the partially migratory Blackbird Turdus merula is migratory in Scandinavia, but not in the milder climate of southern Europe. The nature of the staple food is also significant. Most specialist insect eaters outside the tropics are long-distance migrants, and have little choice but to head south in winter.

Sometimes the factors are finely balanced. The Whinchat Saxicola rubetra of Europe and the Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maura of Asia are long-distance migrants wintering in the tropics, whereas their close relative, the European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola is a resident bird in most of its range, and moves only short distances from the colder north and east. A possible factor here is that the resident species can often raise an extra brood.

Recent research suggests that long-distance passerine migrants are of South American and African, rather than northern hemisphere, evolutionary origins. They are effectively southern species coming north to breed rather than northern species going south to winter.

Theoretical analyses, summarized by Alerstam (2001), show that detours that increase flight distance by up to 20% will often be adaptive on aerodynamic grounds - a bird that loads itself with food to cross a long barrier flies less efficiently. However some species show circuitous migratory routes that reflect historical range expansions and are far from optimal in ecological terms. An example is the migration of continental populations of Swainson's Thrush, which fly far east across North America before turning south via Florida to reach northern South America; this route is believed to be the consequence of a range expansion that occurred about 10,000 years ago. Detours may also be caused by differential wind conditions, predation risk, or other factors.

Climate change

Large scale climatic changes, as have been experienced in the past, are expected to have an effect on the timing of migration. Studies have shown a variety of effects including timing changes in migration, breeding[34] as well as population variations.[35][36]

Ecological effects

The migration of birds also aids the movement of other species, including those of ectoparasites such as ticks and lice,[37] which in turn may carry micro-organisms including those of concern to human health. Considerable interest has been taken due to the global spread of avian influenza, however migrant birds have not been found to be a special risk, with import of pet and domestic birds being a greater threat.[38] Some viruses that are maintained in birds without lethal effects, such as the West Nile Virus may however be spread by migrating birds.[39] Birds may also have a role in the dispersal of propagules of plants and plankton.[40][41]

Some predators take advantage of the concentration of birds during migration. Greater Noctule bats feed on nocturnal migrating passerines.[3] Some birds of prey specialize on migrating waders.[42]

Study techniques

Early studies on the timing of migration began in 1749 in Finland, with Johannes Leche of Turku collecting the dates of arrivals of spring migrants.[43]

Bird migration routes have been studied by a variety of techniques of which ringing is the oldest. Color marking and use of radar, satellite tracking are some of the other techniques.

Stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur have also been used to establish avian migratory connectivity between wintering sites and breeding grounds. Stable isotopic methods to establish migratory linkage rely on spatial isotopic differences in bird diet that are incorporated into inert tissues like feathers, or into growing tissues such as claws and muscle or blood.[44][45]

An approach to identify migration intensity makes use of upward pointing microphones to record the nocturnal contact calls of flocks flying overhead. These are then analyzed in a laboratory to measure time, frequency and species.[46]

File:EmlenFunnel.svg

An older technique to quantify migration involves observing the face of the moon towards full moon and counting the silhouettes of flocks of birds as they fly at night.[47][48]

Orientation behaviour studies have been traditionally carried out using variants of a setup known as the Emlen funnel, which consists of a circular cage with the top covered by glass or wire-screen so that either the sky is visible or the setup is placed in a planetarium or with other controls on environmental cues. The orientation behaviour of the bird inside the cage is studied quantitatively using the distribution of marks that the bird leaves on the walls of the cage.[49] Other approaches used in pigeon homing studies make use of the direction in which the bird vanishes on the horizon.

Threats and conservation

Human activities have threatened many migratory bird species. The distances involved in bird migration mean that they often cross political boundaries of countries and conservation measures require international cooperation. Several international treaties have been signed to protect migratory species including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 of the US.[50] and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement[51]

The concentration of birds during migration can put species at risk. Some spectacular migrants have already gone extinct, the most notable being the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). During migration the flocks were a mile (1.6 km) wide and Template:Convert/miTemplate:Convert/test/A long, taking several days to pass and containing up to a billion birds.

Other significant areas include stop-over sites between the wintering and breeding territories.[52] A capture-recapture study of passerine migrants with high fidelity for breeding and wintering sites did not show similar strict association with stop-over sites.[53]

Hunting along the migratory route can also take a heavy toll. The populations of Siberian Cranes that wintered in India declined due to hunting along the route, particularly in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Birds were last seen in their favourite wintering grounds in Keoladeo National Park in 2002.[54]

Structures such as power lines, wind farms and offshore oil-rigs have also been known to affect migratory birds.[55] Habitat destruction by land use changes is the biggest threat, and shallow wetlands that are stopover and wintering sites for migratory birds are particularly threatened by draining and reclamation for human use.

Migration by species

Golden eagle

Main article: List of migratory birds

Golden eagle

Most populations of Golden Eagles are sedentary, but the species is actually a partial migrant. Golden Eagles are very hardy species, being well adapted to cold climates, however they cannot abide declining available food sources in the northern stretches of their range. Eagles raised at latitudes greater than 60° N are usually migratory, though a short migration may be untaken by those who breed or hatch at about 50° N.[56] During migration, birds often use soaring-gliding flight during migration, rather than powered flight.[56] In Finland, most banded juveniles move between Template:Convert/andTemplate:Convert/test/Aon due south, whereas adults stay locally through winter. Further east, conditions are too harsh for even wintering territorial adults.[57] Golden Eagles that breed from the Kola peninsula to Anadyr in the Russian Far East migrate south to winter on the Russian and Mongolian steppes, and the North China Plains. The flat, relatively open landscapes in these regions hold relatively few resident breeding Golden Eagles.[58] Similarly the entire population of Golden Eagles from northern and central Alaska and northern Canada migrates south. At Mount Lorette in Alberta, approximately 4,000 Golden Eagle may pass during the fall, the largest recorded migration of Golden Eagles on earth.[59] Here the mountain ranges are relatively moderate and consistent, thus being reliable for thermals and updrafts which made long-distance migrating feasible.[59] Birds hatched in Denali National Park in Alaska traveled from Template:Convert/toTemplate:Convert/test/Aon to their winter ranges in western North America.[56] These western migrants may winter anywhere from southern Alberta and Montana to New Mexico and Arizona and from inland California to Nebraska. Adults who bred in northeastern Hudson Bay area of Canada reached their wintering grounds, which range from central Michigan to southern Pennsylvania to northeastern Alabama, in 26 to 40 days, with arrival dates from November to early December.[60] The departure dates from wintering grounds are variable. In southwestern Canada, they leave their wintering grounds by April 6 to May 8 (the mean being April 21); in southwestern Idaho, wintering birds leave from March 20 to April 13 (mean of March 29); and in the Southwestern United States, wintering birds may depart by early March.[57][56][61] Elsewhere in the species' breeding range, Golden Eagles (i.e. those who breed in the contiguous Western United States, all of Europe but for Northern Scandinavia, North Africa and all of Asia but for Northern Russia) are non-migratory and tend to remain within striking distance of their breeding territories throughout the year.[62] In Scotland, among all recovered, banded Golden Eagles (36 out of 1000, the rest mostly died or disappeared) the average distance between ringing and recovery was Template:Convert/kmTemplate:Convert/test/Aon, averaging Template:Convert/kmTemplate:Convert/test/Aon in juveniles and Template:Convert/kmTemplate:Convert/test/Aon in older birds.[57] In the dry Southwestern United States, Golden Eagles tend to move to higher elevations once the breeding season is complete.[63] In North Africa, populations breeding at lower latitudes, like Morocco, are mostly sedentary, although some occasionally disperse after breeding to areas outside of the normal breeding range.[64]

See also

References

  • Alerstam, T. (2001). Detours in bird migration. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 209, 319-331.
  • Berthold, Peter (2001) Bird Migration: A General Survey. Second Edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850787-9
  • Weidensaul, Scott. Living On the Wind: Across the Hemisphere With Migratory Birds. Douglas & McIntyre, 1999.
  • Dingle, Hugh. Migration: The Biology of Life on The Move. Oxford Univ. Press, 1996.

External links

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