Long-distance migration has evolved repeatedly in animals and covers substantial distances across the globe. The overall speed of migration in birds is determined by fueling rate at stopover, flight speed, power consumption during flight, and wind support. The highest speeds (500 km/day) have been predicted in small birds with a fly-and-forage strategy, such as swallows and swifts. Here, we use GLS tracking data for common swifts breeding in the northern part of the European range to study seasonal migration strategies and overall migration speeds. The data reveal estimated overall migration speeds substantially higher (average: 570 km/day; maximum: 832 km/day over 9 days) than predicted for swifts. In spring, swift routes provided 20% higher tailwind support than in autumn. Sustained migration speeds of this magnitude can only be achieved in small birds by a combined strategy including high fueling rate at stopover, fly-and-forage during migration, and selective use of tailwinds.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Biological sciences