Desert crossing strategies of migrant songbirds vary between and within species

Author(s): Jiguet, F., Burgess, M., Thorup, K., Conway, G., Arroyo Matos, J.L., Barber, L., Black, J., Burton, N., Castelló, J., Clewley, G., Copete, J.L., Czajkowski, M.A., Dale, S., Davis, T., Dombrovski, V., Drew, M., Elts, J., Gilson, V., Grzegorczyk, E., Henderson, I., Holdsworth, M., Husbands, R., Lorrilliere, R., Marja, R., Minkevicius, S., Moussy, C., Olsson, P., Onrubia, A., Pérez, M., Piacentini, J., Piha, M., Pons, J.-M., Procházka, P., Raković, M., Robins, H., Seimola, T., Selstam, G., Skierczyński, M., Sondell, J., Thibault, J.-C., Tøttrup, A.P., Walker, J. & Hewson, C.

Published: December 2019   Pages: 12pp

Journal: Scientific Reports Volume: 9

Article No.: 20248

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1038/s41598-019-56677-4

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Each year, billions of songbirds cross large ecological barriers during their migration. Understanding how they perform this incredible task is crucial to predict how global change may threaten the safety of such journeys. Earlier studies based on radar suggested that most songbirds cross deserts in intermittent flights at high altitude, stopping in the desert during the day, while recent tracking with light loggers suggested diurnal prolongation of nocturnal flights and common non-stop flights for some species. We analyzed light intensity and temperature data obtained from geolocation loggers deployed on 130 individuals of ten migratory songbird species, and show that a large variety of strategies for crossing deserts exists between, but also sometimes within species. Diurnal stopover in the desert is a common strategy in autumn, while most species prolonged some nocturnal flights into the day. Non-stop flights over the desert occurred more frequently in spring than in autumn, and more frequently in foliage gleaners. Temperature recordings suggest that songbirds crossed deserts with flight bouts performed at various altitudes according to species and season, along a gradient ranging from low above ground in autumn to probably >2000 m above ground level, and possibly at higher altitude in spring. High-altitude flights are therefore not the general rule for crossing deserts in migrant songbirds. We conclude that a diversity of migration strategies exists for desert crossing among songbirds, with variations between but also within species.
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