Very rapid long-distance sea crossing by a migratory bird

José A. Alves, Maria P. Dias, Verónica Méndez, Borgný Katrínardóttir, Tómas G. Gunnarsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Landbirds undertaking within-continent migrations have the possibility to stop en route, but most long-distance migrants must also undertake large non-stop sea crossings, the length of which can vary greatly. For shorebirds migrating from Iceland to West Africa, the shortest route would involve one of the longest continuous sea crossings while alternative, mostly overland, routes are available. Using geolocators to track the migration of Icelandic whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), we show that they can complete a round-trip of 11,000 km making two non-stop sea crossings and flying at speeds of up to 24 m s-1; the fastest recorded for shorebirds flying over the ocean. Although wind support could reduce flight energetic costs, whimbrels faced headwinds up to twice their ground speed, indicating that unfavourable and potentially fatal weather conditions are not uncommon. Such apparently high risk migrations might be more common than previously thought, with potential fitness gains outweighing the costs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38154
JournalScientific Reports
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2016

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