Migrating Montagu's harriers frequently interrupt daily flights in both Europe and Africa

Raymond H. G. Klaassen*, Almut E. Schlaich, Willem Bouten, Ben J. Koks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Time budgets are a powerful but hitherto seldom used way to study how migrants organise their bi-annual travels. We studied daily time budgets of travelling Montagu's harriers Circus pygargus, based on GPS tracking data, in which we were particularly interested in how time budgets differ between regions and seasons, and are affected by wind. We found that Montagu's harriers used a relatively broad daily time window for travelling by starting daily travels just after sunrise and ending daily travels just before sunset. Occasionally, flights were extended into the night. Montagu's harriers frequently interrupted their daily flights for on average 1.5 h d(-1). These interruptions occurred in all regions and seasons. The tracking data during interruptions suggested two different behaviours: in 41% of all interruptions the birds were moving (presumed foraging,) and in 32% they were stationary (presumed resting; the remaining interruptions could not be classified). The interruptions for foraging indicate that Montagu's harriers have a fly-and-forage migration strategy (i.e. combine travelling and foraging on the same day), but the interruptions for resting illustrate that their travels comprise of more than fly-and-forage behaviour alone. The large number of interruptions for foraging in the Sahara Desert indicates that this region is less hostile for a migrating raptor than presumed previously. Importantly, harriers spent more time on interruptions for resting on days with stronger headwinds, suggesting that interruptions for resting serve a function of waiting for more favourable weather conditions. Daily variation in time budgets was largely explained by wind; harriers flew more hours per day, and interrupted their flights fewer hours per day, on days they experienced stronger tailwinds. In contrast, time budgets were similar between regions and seasons, suggesting that wind rather than landscape and season shape travel routines of Montagu's harriers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-190
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2017


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