Predicting migratory flight altitudes by physiological migration models

F. Liechti, M.R.J. Klaassen, B. Bruderer

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    Using the altitudinal profiles of wind, temperature, pressure, and humidity in three flight models, we tried to explain the altitudinal distributions of nocturnal migrants recorded by radar above a desert in southern Israel. In the simplest model, only the tailwind component was used as a predictor of the most preferred flight altitude (T model). The energy model (E model) predicted flight ranges according to mechanical power consumption in flapping flight depending on air density and wind conditions, assuming optimal adjustment of airspeed and compensation of crosswinds, and including the influence of mass loss during flight. The energy-water model (EW model) used the same assumptions and parameters as the E model but also included restrictions caused by dehydration. Because wind was by far the most important factor governing altitudinal distribution of nocturnal migrants, differences in predictions of the three models were small. In a first approach, the EW model performed slightly better than the E model, and both performed slightly better than the T model. Differences were most pronounced in spring, when migrants should fly high according to wind conditions, but when climbing and descending they must cross lower altitudes where conditions are better with respect to dehydration. A simplified energy model (Es model) that omits the effect of air density on flight costs explained the same amount of variance in flight altitude as the more complicated E and EW models. By omitting the effect of air density, the Es model predicted lower flight altitudes and thus compensated for factors that generally bias height distributions downward but are not considered in the models (i.e. climb and descent through lower air layers, cost of ascent, and decrease of oxygen partial pressure with altitude). Our results confirm that wind profiles, and thus energy rather than water limitations, govern the altitudinal distribution of nocturnal migrants, even under the extreme humidity and temperature conditions in the trade wind zone. [KEYWORDS: Energy limitations; bird migration; israel; south; water; speed]
    Originele taal-2Engels
    Pagina's (van-tot)205-214
    TijdschriftThe Auk
    Nummer van het tijdschrift1
    StatusGepubliceerd - 2000


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