Soaring migrants flexibly respond to sea-breeze in a migratory bottleneck: using first derivatives to identify behavioural adjustments over time

Paolo Becciu*, David Troupin, Leonid Dinevich, Yossi Leshem, Nir Sapir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Millions of birds travel every year between Europe and Africa detouring ecological barriers and funnelling through migratory corridors where they face variable weather conditions. Little is known regarding the response of migrating birds to mesoscale meteorological processes during flight. Specifically, sea-breeze has a daily cycle that may directly influence the flight of diurnal migrants. Methods: We collected radar tracks of soaring migrants using modified weather radar in Latrun, central Israel, in 7 autumns between 2005 and 2016. We investigated how migrating soaring birds adjusted their flight speed and direction under the effects of daily sea-breeze circulation. We analysed the effects of wind on bird groundspeed, airspeed and the lateral component of the airspeed as a function of time of day using Generalized Additive Mixed Models. To identify when birds adjusted their response to the wind over time, we estimated first derivatives. Results: Using data collected during a total of 148 days, we characterised the diel dynamics of horizontal wind flow relative to the migration goal, finding a consistent rotational movement of the wind blowing towards the East (morning) and to the South-East (late afternoon), with highest crosswind speed around mid-day and increasing tailwinds towards late afternoon. Airspeed of radar detected birds decreased consistently with increasing tailwind and decreasing crosswinds from early afternoon, resulting in rather stable groundspeed of 16–17 m/s. In addition, birds fully compensated for lateral drift when crosswinds were at their maximum and slightly drifted with the wind when crosswinds decreased and tailwinds became more intense. Conclusions: Using a simple and broadly applicable statistical method, we studied how wind influences bird flight through speed adjustments over time, providing new insights regarding the flexible behavioural responses of soaring birds to wind conditions. These adjustments allowed the birds to compensate for lateral drift under crosswind and reduced their airspeed under tailwind. Our work enhances our understanding of how migrating birds respond to changing wind conditions during their long-distance journeys through migratory corridors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


FundersFunder number
Israel Meteorological Service


    • Aeroecology
    • Behavioural optimization
    • Bird migration
    • Generalised additive models
    • Radar ornithology
    • Sea-breeze circulation
    • Weather radar
    • Wind drift


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