Bird orientation: compensation for wind drift in migrating raptors is age dependent

Kasper Thorup, Thomas Alerstam, Mikael Hake, Nils Kjellén

Abstract

Despite the potentially strong effect of wind on bird orientation, our understanding of how wind drift affects migrating birds is still very limited. Using data from satellite-based radio telemetry, we analysed the effect of changing winds on the variation of the track direction of individual birds. We studied adults and juveniles of two raptor species, osprey Pandion haliaetus and honey buzzard Pernis apivorus, on autumn migration between North Europe and Africa, and demonstrate an important difference between the age categories of both species in the extent of wind drift. For juveniles, side- and following-wind components affected the rates of movement perpendicular to and along the mean direction, respectively, to a similar degree, suggesting full wind drift. By contrast, for adults the rate of crosswind displacement was significantly smaller than the effect of wind on forward movement, showing much reduced wind drift (29%). This indicates that adults have acquired a more sophisticated orientation system, permitting detection of and compensation for wind drift, than juveniles. These drift effects are likely to reduce the ability of juveniles to locate species-specific wintering areas in case of rapid climatic wind change.