Meier, C. M., H. Karaadiç, R. Aymí, S. G. Peev, E. Bächler, R. Weber, W. Witvliet & F. Liechti (2018)

What makes Alpine swift ascend at twilight? Novel geolocators reveal year-round flight behaviour.

Further information

Ecol. Sociobiol. 72: 45.





Studying individual flight behaviour throughout the year is indispensable to understand the ecology of a bird species. Recent development in technology allows now to track flight behaviour of small long-distance bird migrants throughout its annual cycle. The specific flight behaviour of twilight ascents in birds has been documented in a few studies, but only during a short period of the year, and never quantified on the individual level. It has been suggested that twilight ascents might be a role in orientation and navigation. Previous studies had reported the behaviour only near the breeding site and during migration. We investigated year round flight behaviour of 34 individual Alpine swifts (Apus melba) of four different populations in relation to twilight ascents. We recorded twilight ascents all around the year and found a twofold higher frequency in ascents during the non-breeding residence phase in Africa compared to all other phases of the year. Dawn ascents were twice as common as dusk ascents and occurred mainly when atmospheric conditions remained stable over a 24-h period. We found no conclusive support that twilight ascents are essential for recalibration of compass cues and landmarks. Data on the wing flapping intensity revealed that high activity at twilight occurred more regularly than the ascents. We therefore conclude that alpine swift generally increase flight activity—also horizontal flight—during the twilight period and we suppose that this increased flight activity, including ascents, might be part of social interactions between individuals.