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Interspecific comparison of the flight performance between sparrowhawks and common buzzards migrating at the Falsterbo peninsula: A radar study

  • Gintaras Malmiga
  • Cecilia Nilsson
  • Johan Bäckman
  • Thomas Alerstam
Publishing year: 2014
Language: English
Pages: 670-679
Publication/Series: Current Zoology
Volume: 60
Issue: 5
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Current Zoology

Abstract english

In order to compare the two species’ flight performance over the exposed and windy Falsterbo Peninsula, where

thermal conditions seldomly are very favorable, we used tracking radar to study flight parameters of sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus

and common buzzards Buteo buteo during autumn migration. The results showed a clear difference between sparrowhawks

and common buzzards in their flight altitudes and speeds, and in the wind conditions they encountered. Common buzzards had

higher flight altitudes and were more selective of wind. Flight altitude was negatively related to the wind speed, which was most

pronounced for common buzzards. Sparrowhawks had higher mean air- and cross-country speeds than common buzzards. Airspeed

was negatively related, whereas ground and cross-country speeds were positively related to the tailwind component for

both raptors. The differences between sparrowhawks and buzzards could to a large degree be explained by a larger dependence on

thermal soaring among the common buzzards; a strategy associated with selectivity for favourable thermal and wind conditions

during migratory flight. An additional important explanation for the interspecific differences was the habit of the sparrowhawks

to combine migratory flight with hunting for prey, which makes it prone to fly at lower altitudes and use flapping flight to a much

larger degree than common buzzards which do not forage during their migratory passage of the Falsterbo Peninsula.


  • Biological Sciences


  • Centre for Animal Movement Research
  • ISSN: 1674-5507
Thomas Alerstam
E-mail: thomas [dot] alerstam [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Professor emeritus

Evolutionary ecology

+46 46 222 37 85


Sölvegatan 37, Lund