Dark-bellied Brent Geese Branta bernicla bernicla, as recorded by satellite telemetry, do not minimize flight distance during spring migration

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Nine Dark-bellied Brent Geese Branta bernicla bernicla were equipped with satellite transmitters during spring staging in the Dutch Wadden Sea in 1998 and 1999. The transmitters (in all cases less than 3% of body mass) were attached to the back by a flexible elastic harness. One juvenile female was tracked to the Yamal peninsula in 1998. Eight adult males were selected from a single catch of 75 to span the range of body mass observed on the date of capture (11 May 1999) and all but the lightest individual completed the first lap of the migratory flight to the White Sea, Russia, according to the time schedule normal for this species. Six birds were successfully tracked to Taymyr for a total distance averaging 5004 km (range 4577-5164) but judging from later movements none bred (although 1999 was breeding year). Although the routes chosen during spring migration were closely similar; none of the tagged birds migrated together. On average the geese used 16 flights to reach their summer destinations on Taymyr. The longest uninterrupted flights during the first half of the journey (Wadden Sea to Kanin) covered 1056 km (mean of seven adult males, range 768-1331), while the corresponding value for the second half of the migration (Kanin-Taymyr) was only 555 km (mean of six adult males). Only 7% of total time during spring migration was spent in active flight, as contrasted to c. 80% at long-term stopovers. Overall average travelling speed was 118 km/day (range 97-148). Including fattening prior to departure the rate of travel falls to 62 km/day (range 49-70), in keeping with theoretical predictions. Routes followed deviated from the great circle route, adding at least 700 km (16%) to the journey from Wadden Sea to Taymyr, and we conclude that the coastal route is chosen to facilitate feeding, drinking and resting en route instead of minimizing total flight distance.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology
  • Biological Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-121
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Publication categoryResearch

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