Shamoun-Baranes, J., F. Liechti & W. M. G. Vansteelant (2017)

Atmospheric conditions create freeways, detours and tailbacks for migrating birds.

Further information

J. Comp. Physiol. A. 203: 509–529



The extraordinary adaptations of birds to contend with atmospheric conditions during their migratory flights have captivated ecologists for decades. During the 21st century technological advances have sparked a revival of research into the influence of weather on migrating birds. Using biologging technology, flight behaviour is measured across entire flyways, weather radar networks quantify large-scale migratory fluxes, citizen scientists gather observations of migrant birds and mechanistic models are used to simulate migration in dynamic aerial environments. In this review, we first introduce the most relevant microscale, mesoscale and synoptic scale atmospheric phenomena from the point of view of a migrating bird. We then provide an overview of the individual responses of migrant birds (when, where and how to fly) in relation to these phenomena. We explore the cumulative impact of individual responses to weather during migration, and the consequences thereof for populations and migratory systems. In general, individual birds seem to have a much more flexible response to weather than previously thought, but we also note similarities in migratory behaviour across taxa. We propose various avenues for future research through which we expect to derive more fundamental insights into the influence of weather on the evolution of migratory behaviour and the life-history, population dynamics and species distributions of migrant birds.
keywords: birds, biologging, flight behaviour, radar, weather