Goal-oriented migrants travelling through the sea or air must cope with the effect of cross-flows during their journeys if they are to reach their destination [1–3] . In order to counteract flow-induced drift from their preferred course, migrants must detect the mean flow direction, and integrate this information with output from their internal compass, to compensate for the deflection. Animals can potentially sense flow direction by two nonexclusive mechanisms: either indirectly, by visually assessing the effect of the current on their movement direction relative to the ground; or directly, via intrinsic properties of the current  . Here, we report the first evidence that nocturnal compass-guided insect migrants use a turbulence-mediated mechanism for directly assessing the wind direction hundreds of metres above the ground. By comparison, we find that nocturnally-migrating songbirds do not use turbulence to detect the flow; instead they rely on visual assessment of wind-induced drift to indirectly infer the flow direction.