Migration distance affects stopover use but not travel speed: Contrasting patterns between long- and short-distance migrating ospreys.

Monti, Flavio; Gremillet, D.; Sforzi, Andrea; Dominici, Jean-Marie; Triay Bagur, Rafel; Muñoz Navarro, Antoni; Fusani, Leonida; Klaassen, Raymond; Alerstam, Thomas; Duriez, Olivier

24 July 2018

The development of migratory behaviour is a continuous process which is not only determined by genes, but also moulded by individual differences based on life-history variations occurring at each ontogenetic stage. Assessing consistency and plasticity in migratory traits between long distance (LDM) and short distance migratory (SDM) populations within the same species that may express dissimilarities in the leeway of annual schedules is essential to understand the evolution and ontogeny of migratory strategies.
We studied the migration strategies in autumn regarding flight speed and the use of stopovers (number and duration of stop-overs across the whole journey) at the intra-specific level, by tracking with GPS loggers the intercontinental migration of 43 adult and juvenile ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) from both LDM and SDM populations.
LDM ospreys travelled distances five times larger than SDM ospreys, but their total migration speed was 2.4 times slower. While daily distance travelled did not differ between populations, the reduced total migration speed by LDMs was due to higher stopover use compared to SDM birds. SDM birds used more direct routes, crossing open sea at higher flight speeds, even though both populations largely benefitted from wind assistance across their journey. Across populations, adult birds travelled longer distances per day and displayed less sinuous migratory paths than juveniles, suggesting that migratory capabilities improve with age and experience of the bird. Overall, the time constraint related to total migration distance was not the main driver of the total migration speed, and other factors such as physiological needs to rest and refuel at stopover sites may play an important role. Our study underlines the importance of investigating variability in migration strategies in partially migratory species, for a better understanding of avian migratory ecology.