Some migratory birds refuel at stopover sites that they by-pass on the return trip. In theory, this skipping behaviour is only expected in time-selected migrants when the overflown site is of a lower quality than the departure site. We provide empirical evidence that quality differences in stopover sites are the cause for skipping in Bewick's Swans Cygnus bewickii tracked by satellite telemetry. Two and five complete tracks were recorded in spring and autumn, respectively, showing that the White Sea was visited for c. 2 weeks in spring, but by-passed (or visited for a few days at the most) in autumn. Skipping of the White Sea in autumn was predicted by a dynamic programming model which was based on calculated gain rates during stopover in the Pechora Delta and the White Sea. This prediction was not sensitive to plausible variations in gain rates. Relative to the Pechora Delta the White Sea is a poor site because a large tidal amplitude precludes foraging on the beds of the submerged macrophyte Fennel Pondweed Potamogeton pectinatus during high tide. The dynamic programming model predicted a fast autumn migration. However, the phenology of autumn arrival dates of Bewick's Swans on the wintering grounds revealed that only in three out of ten years a significant number of birds was able to reach the wintering grounds without refuelling. In the other years, unfavourable wind conditions along the Russian/Baltic part of the route prevented such non-stop migration [KEYWORDS: Cygnus bewickii; fuelling rates; dynamic programming; optimal migration; satellite tracking; wind assistance]
Original languageEnglish
Journal publication date2002

ID: 131420