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Are flight paths of nocturnal songbird migrants influenced by local coastlines at a peninsula?

  • Cecilia Nilsson
  • Johan Bäckman
  • Thomas Alerstam
Publishing year: 2014
Language: English
Pages: 660-669
Publication/Series: Current Zoology
Volume: 60
Issue: 5
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Current Zoology

Abstract english

By recording nocturnally migrating passerines with tracking radar we have investigated how coastlines affect the migrants’

flight paths. Birds could use coastlines as an orientation aid or as a reference cue to compensate for wind drift while migrating.

However, on the small scale of Falsterbo Peninsula in southern Sweden, we found very little effect of coastlines on migrants

flight paths, irrespective of altitude. We tracked 2 930 migrants in three autumn and two spring seasons, at altitudes from

60 up to 3 000 meters. We compared tracks of migrants flying in three different areas, which correspond to the three main coastlines,

and can demonstrate that the orientation of the tracks did not differ in a way consistent with the coastlines between the

areas in autumn, and showed only a slight effect in spring. This is in accordance with earlier infrared device monitoring in Falsterbo,

but contrary to earlier visual observations. It supports the view of nocturnally migrating passerines as mainly broad-front

migrants. Even though the coastlines on the scale of the peninsula affected the flight paths very little, it is possible that the coastline

has an effect on a larger regional scale, by migrants avoiding long sea crossings and thereby being funneled towards the peninsula,

but this remains to be investigated.


  • 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