Migration mortality in birds

Newton, Ian ORCID: 2024 Migration mortality in birds. Ibis.

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Bird migration is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles, producing massive global changes in the distributions of birds twice each year. To understand the evolution of this phenomenon, it is important to know the costs of these journeys in terms of the mortality they impose. The use of mark/re-sighting and tracking studies has now made it possible, for some bird species, to separate mortality during migration from mortality during stationary periods. This paper aims to assess this information, based mainly on 31 published studies, most of which concern long-distance migrations of passerines, large waterfowl and raptors. Most of these studies revealed that mortality rates were greater during migration than at other times – in some species more than 20 times greater. Overall, on the basis of median values, mortality per unit time during autumn journeys was about 3.0 times greater than mortality during stationary periods, during spring journeys about 6.3 times greater, and during autumn and spring journeys combined 4.4 times greater. The greater overall mortality on spring journeys was largely associated with more adverse wind conditions in spring than in autumn. High mortality rates were especially evident in birds crossing large ecological barriers, such as the Sahara Desert or the Gulf of Mexico, and were higher in that part of their journey than when crossing more benign terrain. There was no increase in mortality during migration in the adults of some long-lived species with high annual survival and predominantly overland journeys; for these birds, much larger samples of year-round tracked individuals will be needed to reveal any seasonal variations in mortality. Within certain species, birds that travelled long distances experienced greater mortality over the journey than those that travelled short distances, but in other species no such relationship was found. In species in which adults and juveniles were followed over the same journey, juveniles showed greater mortality. To judge from other studies, this difference could be attributed to the inexperience of juveniles, their lower feeding rates and flight efficiency, greater vulnerability to hazards such as weather and predation, or more frequent navigational errors. Broadly speaking, the risks of migration vary with features of the birds themselves, with the terrain to be crossed and with weather at the time. It may be assumed that migration persists in the long term because the costs (in terms of associated mortality) are more than offset by the benefits of breeding and wintering in different areas (in terms of improved overall survival and breeding success). To provide further understanding of migration mortality, suggestions are made on the types of studies required and on how they could best be conducted.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 0019-1019
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: bird mortality, ecological barriers, migration hazards, mortality during migration, seasonal survival
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 20 Feb 2024 09:24 +0 (UTC)

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