Poleward non-breeding migration of a breeding population: challenging the traditional perspective of avian migration

Guilad Friedemann*, Yossi Leshem, Krystaal M. McClain, Gil Bohrer, Avi Bar-Massada, Ido Izhaki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Migration is a fundamental ecological phenomenon, which in the Northern Hemisphere involves directed movements between northern breeding grounds and southern non-breeding grounds. Migratory movements in the opposite direction to the prevailing seasonal routes had been seldom studied and are considered to be an exceptional behavior of animals. Here we present novel insights on avian movement and challenge the traditional perspective of avian migration, by revealing an exceptional movement pattern. We combine analyses of a large dataset based on high-frequency GPS animal tracking data, deployed on the breeding population of the Judean long-legged buzzard Buteo rufinus (LLB), along with analyses of remotely sensed data (of a satellite-based greenness index NDVI – normalized difference vegetation index) to reveal the migratory patterns of this population. This species had never been tagged before and its annual movements were previously unknown. We show that the Judean LLB population is migratory rather than sedentary, and that this population performs a poleward non-breeding migration from their southern breeding grounds in Israel to their northern non-breeding grounds in Syria, Turkey and Russia. We suggest that this unusual phenomenon is likely related to food availability in their breeding and non-breeding grounds. We provide support to the hypothesis that LLBs occupy rich environments, track specific ecological productivity levels along latitude gradients, and maintain consistently lower NDVI levels across their annual cycle compared to NDVI values available in their respective home range. These low NDVI levels are linked to the foraging ecology of LLBs, which forage in relatively open areas characterized by low vegetation. To the best of our knowledge, we present here a most extreme departure from the seasonally appropriate migratory direction of most avian species, by showing a significant poleward non-breeding pattern and by providing a possible suggestion for this behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02362
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020


FundersFunder number
Hoopoe Foundation
International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun
Jacob and Lena Joels Memorial Foundation
Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael
Smaller‐Winnikow Foundation, Israel Nature and Parks Authority
National Science FoundationIOS‐1145952
National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationNNX11AP61G
Resources for the Future
Raptor Research Foundation
Rieger Foundation
Ministry of Science and Technology, Israel
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia


    • Buteo rufinus
    • annual movements
    • avian migration
    • ecological productivity
    • long-legged buzzard
    • remote sensing


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