The fly-and-social foraging hypothesis for diurnal migration: Why American crows migrate during the day

Michael P. Ward, Arlo Raim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most migratory species migrate at night, and the benefits associated with nocturnal migration have been well reviewed; however, less attention has been paid to the benefits associated with diurnal migration. There are two theories for diurnal migration: (1) diurnal migration allows for the use of thermals and therefore reduces energy loss, and (2) the fly-and-forage hypothesis, which suggests that diurnal migrants can search for prey and forage as they migrate. We investigated whether American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) engage in the fly-and-forage strategy of diurnal migration as they migrated north in the spring. We tracked eight radio-tagged crows as they migrated hundreds of kilometers in the spring to determine if they were diurnal migrants, whether they migrated with conspecifics, whether they stopped to forage, and if they did stop, whether they forage with conspecifics. All crows migrated during the day, and while on several occasions crows were seen migrating in close association with conspecifics, all crows were also observed migrating alone. On average, crows migrated approximately 300 km the day they left their wintering grounds, and over the course of this day, they stopped twice and foraged at these locations for 35 min. On all but one occasion, the stops made during migration were to forage with groups of conspecifics. While the fly-and-forage hypothesis for diurnal migration has primary been applied to raptors, many diurnal migrants forage socially, and the presence of foraging conspecifics and/or heterospecifics may be a significant benefit in locating food resources and ultimately migrating during the day.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1411-1418
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • American crow
  • Communal roost
  • Conspecifics
  • Diurnal migration
  • Social foraging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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