Liechti, F., S. Bauer, K. L. Dhanjal-Adams, T. Emmenegger, P. Zehtindjiev & S. Hahn (2018)

Miniaturized multi-sensor loggers provide new insight into year-round flight behaviour of small trans-Sahara avian migrants.

Further information

Mov. Ecol. 6:19





Background: Over the past decade, the miniaturisation of animal borne tags such as geolocators and GPS-transmitters has revolutionized our knowledge of the whereabouts of migratory species. Novel light-weight multi-sensor loggers (1.4 g), which harbour sensors for measuring ambient light intensity, atmospheric pressure, temperature and acceleration, were fixed to two long-distance migrant bird species - eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops) and great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus). Using acceleration and atmospheric pressure data recorded every 5 and 30 min, respectively, we aimed at reconstructing individual diurnal and seasonal patterns of flight activity and flight altitude and thereby, at describing basic, yet hitherto unknown characteristics of migratory flight behaviour. Furthermore, we wanted to characterise the variability in these migration characteristics between individuals, species and migration periods.
Results: The flight duration from breeding to sub-Saharan African non-breeding sites and back was more variable within than between the species. Great reed warblers were airborne for a total of 252 flight hours and thus, only slightly longer than eurasian hoopoes with 232 h. With a few exceptions, both species migrated predominantly nocturnally – departure around dusk and landing before dawn. Mean flight altitudes were higher during pre- than during post-breeding migration (median 1100 to 1600 m a.s.l.) and flight above 3000 m occurred regularly with a few great reed warblers exceeding 6000 m a.s.l. (max. 6458 m a.s.l.). Individuals changed flight altitudes repeatedly during a flight bout, indicating a continuous search for (more) favourable flight conditions.
Conclusions: We found high variation between individuals in the flight behaviour parameters measured – a variation that surprisingly even exceeded the variation between the species. More importantly, our results have shown that multi-sensor loggers have the potential to provide detailed insights into many fundamental aspects of individual behaviour in small aerial migrants. Combining the data recorded on the multiple sensors with, e.g., remote sensing data like weather and habitat quality on the spatial and temporal scale will be a great step forward to explore individual decisions during migration and their consequences.
key words: Biologging, Migration, Flight, Timing, Altitude, Activity, Eurasian hoopoe, Great reed warbler