Swainson's Thrushes do not show strong wind selectivity prior to crossing the Gulf of Mexico

Rachel T. Bolus, Robert H. Diehl, Frank R. Moore, Jill L. Deppe, Michael P. Ward, Jaclyn Smolinsky, Theodore J. Zenzal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During long-distance fall migrations, nocturnally migrating Swainson's Thrushes often stop on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast before flying across the Gulf. To minimize energetic costs, trans-Gulf migrants should stop over when they encounter crosswinds or headwinds, and depart with supportive tailwinds. However, time constrained migrants should be less selective, balancing costs of headwinds with benefits of continuing their migrations. To test the hypotheses that birds select supportive winds and that selectivity is mediated by seasonal time constraints, we examined whether local winds affected Swainson's Thrushes' arrival and departure at Ft. Morgan, Alabama, USA at annual, seasonal, and nightly time scales. Additionally, migrants could benefit from forecasting future wind conditions, crossing on nights when winds are consistently supportive across the Gulf, thereby avoiding the potentially lethal consequences of depleting their energetic reserves over water. To test whether birds forecast, we developed a movement model, calculated to what extent departure winds were predictive of future Gulf winds, and tested whether birds responded to predictability. Swainson's Thrushes were only slightly selective and did not appear to forecast. By following the simple rule of avoiding only the strongest headwinds at departure, Swainson's Thrushes could survive the 1500 km flight between Alabama and Veracruz, Mexico.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14280
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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