Bird migration routes often follow detours where passages across ecological barriers are reduced in extent. This occurs in spite of the fact that long barrier crossings are within the birds' potential flight range capacity. Long-distance flights are associated with extra energy costs for transport of the heavy fuel loads required. This paper explores how important the fuel transport costs, estimated on the basis of flight mechanics, map be to explain detours for birds migrating by flapping flight, Maximum detours in relation to expanse of the barrier are predicted for cases where birds travel along the detour by numerous short flights and small fuel reserves, divide the detour into a limited number of flight steps, and where a reduced barrier passage is included in the detour. The principles for determining the optimum route, often involving a shortcut across part of the barrier, are derived. Furthermore, the effects of differences in fuel deposition rates and in transport costs for the profitability of detours are briefly considered. An evaluation of a number of observed and potential detours in relation to the general predictions of maximum detours, indicates that reduction of fuel transport costs may well be a factor of widespread importance for the evolution of detours in bird migration at wide ecological barriers. (C) 2001 Academic Press.