The use of thermals by soaring migrants

Yossi Leshem, Yoram Yom-Tov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The use of thermals during the spring and autumn migration across Israel by four species of snaring birds (White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina and Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus) was studied by monitoring them with a motorized glider, light aircraft and radar. This is the first study in which snaring migrants have been followed in flight for any length of time and their flight performance has been recorded directly. The birds flew in an average height band between 344 and 1123 m above ground level. Altitude increased from the morning towards noon and decreased again in the afternoon. Average velocities were 29.2 km/h, 38.7 km/h, 50.9 km/h and 45.2 km/h for White Pelicans, White Storks. Lesser Spotted Eagles and Honey Buzzards, respectively. Atmospheric conditions had a major effect on flight velocity. White Storks showed a positive correlation between the flight velocity and the height between the base and top of the thermals. In White Pelicans, there was a correlation between velocity and mean height. Wing load (body mass/wing area) was positively related to the climbing time in thermals and negatively related to the mean height used by a species. There was also a positive, but not significant, relationship between wing load and velocity. Soaring birds appreciably extend the distance covered in migration in relation to the straight line from their breeding to wintering grounds (by 48-91%). The increased distance, caused through circumventing sea areas, ranged between 22-34%, while the increase resulting from soaring accounted for an additional 22-57% of the route.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-674
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1996


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