Migrating curlews on schedule : departure and arrival patterns of a long-distance migrant depend on time and breeding location rather than on wind conditions


However, few studies have tried to validate the significance of these three concepts simultaneously, and long-term, high-resolution tagging datasets recording individual movements across consecutive years are scarce. We used such a dataset to explore intraspecific and intra-individual variabilities in departure and arrival decisions from/to wintering grounds in relation to these three different concepts in bird migration.We equipped 23 curlews (Numenius arquata) wintering in the Wadden Sea with Global Positioning System data loggers to record their spatio-temporal patterns of departure from and arrival at their wintering site, and the first part of their spring migration. We obtained data for 42 migrations over 6 years, with 12 individuals performing repeat migrations in consecutive years. Day of year of departure and arrival was related to 38 meteorological and bird-related predictors using the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) to identify drivers of departure and arrival decisions.Curlews migrated almost exclusively to Arctic and sub-Arctic Russia for breeding.  Curlews breeding further away in areas with late snowmelt departed later. Departures dates varied by only < 4 days in individual curlews tagged over consecutive years.These results suggest that the trigger for migration in this long-distance migrant is largely independent of weather conditions but is subject to resource availability in breeding areas. The high intra-individual repeatability of departure days among subsequent years and the lack of relationship to weather parameters suggest the importance of genetic triggers in prompting the start of migration. Further insights into the timing of migration in immatures and closely related birds might help to further unravel the genetic mechanisms triggering migration patterns.


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