Migratory birds are predicted to adapt their departure to wind, changing their threshold of departure and selectivity of the most favourable winds in relation to the mean, scatter and skewness of the wind regime. The optimal departure behaviour depends also on the importance of time and energy minimization during migration and on the ratio of cost of flight to cost of resting and waiting for more favourable winds. We compared departure and flight activity of shorebirds migrating in contrasting wind regimes during autumn (high probability of wind resistance) and spring (high probability of wind assistance) in southern Scandinavia, using data obtained by radiotelemetry, radar tracking and visual observations. The shorebirds changed their threshold for departure in relation to wind between the two seasons, flying almost exclusively with wind assistance in spring but regularly with wind resistance during autumn. The degree of wind selectivity in relation to the distributions of available wind effects was similar during autumn and spring indicating that reducing time and energy costs for migration was important during both seasons. These results demonstrate that migratory birds change departure behaviour in relation to the prevailing wind regime. It remains unknown whether they change behaviour not only seasonally but also in different zones along the migration route and whether they respond to differences not only in mean wind conditions but also in scatter and skewness between wind regimes. Our study indicates the possible existence of an adaptive flexibility in responses to wind regimes among migratory birds. (c) 2012 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.