Flight responses by a migratory soaring raptor to changing meteorological conditions

Michael J. Lanzone, Tricia A. Miller, Philip Turk, David Brandes, Casey Halverson, Charles Maisonneuve, Junior Tremblay, Jeff Cooper, Kieran O'Malley, Robert P. Brooks, Todd Katzner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Soaring birds that undertake long-distance migration should develop strategies to minimize the energetic costs of endurance flight. This is relevant because condition upon completion of migration has direct consequences for fecundity, fitness and thus, demography. Therefore, strong evolutionary pressures are expected for energy minimization tactics linked to weather and topography. Importantly, the minute-by-minute mechanisms birds use to subsidize migration in variable weather are largely unknown, in large part because of the technological limitations in studying detailed long-distance bird flight. Here, we show golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) migratory response to changing meteorological conditions as monitored by high-resolution telemetry. In contrast to expectations, responses to meteorological variability were stereotyped across the 10 individuals studied. Eagles reacted to increased wind speed by using more orographic lift and less thermal lift. Concomitantly, as use of thermals decreased, variation in flight speed and altitude also decreased. These results demonstrate how soaring migrant birds can minimize energetic expenditures, they show the context for avian decisions and choices of specific instantaneous flight mechanisms and they have important implications for design of bird-friendly wind energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)710-713
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 23 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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