Aurbach, A., B. Schmid, F. Liechti, N. Chokani & R. Abhari (2018)

Complex behaviour in complex terrain - Modelling bird migration in a high resolution wind field across mountainous terrain to simulate observed patterns.

Further information

J. Theor. Biol. 454: 126–138



Crossing of large ecological barriers, such as mountains, is in terms of energy considered to be a demanding and critical step during bird migration. Besides forming a geographical barrier, mountains have a profound impact on the resulting wind flow. We use a novel framework of mathematical models to investigate the influences of wind and topography on nocturnal passerine bird behaviour, and to assess the energy costs for different flight strategies for crossing the Jura Mountains. The mathematical models include three biological models of bird behaviour: i) wind drift compensation; ii) adaptation of flight height for favourable winds; and, iii) avoidance of obstacles (cross over and/or circumvention of an obstacle following a minimum energy expenditure strategy), which are assessed separately and in combination. Further, we use a mesoscale weather model for high-resolution predictions of the wind fields. We simulate the broad front nocturnal passerine migration for autumn nights with peak migration intensities. The bird densities retrieved from a weather radar are used as the initial intensities and to specify the vertical distributions of the simulated birds. It is shown that migration over complex terrain represents the most expensive flight option in terms of energy expenditure, and wind is seen to be the main factor that influences the energy expenditure in the bird’s preferred flight direction. Further, the combined effects of wind and orography lead to a high concentration of migratory birds within the favourable wind conditions of the Swiss lowlands and north of the Jura Mountains.
key words: Bird migration behaviour, topographical barriers, wind simulation radar, agent-based model