Relation between travel strategy and social organization of migrating birds with special consideration of formation flight in the northern bald ibis
Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences | 5 Jul 2017
B Voelkl and J Fritz
A considerable proportion of the world’s bird species undertake seasonal long-distance migrations. These journeys are energetically demanding. Two major behavioural means to reduce energy expenditure have been suggested: the use of thermal uplifts for a soaring-gliding migration style and travelling in echelon or V-shaped formation. Both strategies have immediate consequences for the social organization of the birds as they either cause large aggregations or require travelling in small and stable groups. Here, we first discuss those consequences, and second present an analysis of formation flight in a flock of northern bald ibis on their first southbound migration. We observe clear correlations between leading and trailing on the dyadic level but only a weak correlation on the individual level during independent flight and no convincing correlation during the human guided part of the migration. This pattern is suggestive of direct reciprocation as a means for establishing cooperation during formation flight. In general, we conclude that behavioural adaptations for dealing with physiological constraints on long-distance migrations either necessitate or ultimately foster formation of social groups with different characteristics. Patterns and social organization of birds travelling in groups have been elusive to study; however, new tracking technology-foremost lightweight GPS units-will provide more insights in the near future.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Physiological determinants of social behaviour in animals’.
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