Adjusting migration schedules at stopping sites: time strategy of a long-distance migratory shorebird during northward migration

Research paper by He-Bo Peng, Ning Hua, Chi-Yeung Choi, David S. Melville, Yan Gao, Qianyan Zhou, Ying Chen, Wenjie Xue, Qiang Ma, Wei Wu, Chendong Tang, Zhijun Ma

Indexed on: 24 Sep '14Published on: 24 Sep '14Published in: Journal of Ornithology


Selection of timing to match optimal environments is crucial for migrants that breed at high latitudes where there is a narrow time window suitable for breeding. However, birds generally depart from non-breeding grounds in a broad time window. How birds adjust their migration schedule to match optimal timing of arrival at breeding grounds is largely unexplored. We radio-tracked Great Knots Calidris tenuirostris at stopping sites in the southern and northern Yellow Sea during the entire stopping periods to determine their time schedules during northward migration. Great Knots stayed for 40.7 ± 9.2 days (n = 11) in the whole Yellow Sea, with the early arrivals having a longer length of stay than the late arrivals. There was no significant difference in the length of stay between birds that arrived on various dates in the southern Yellow Sea, while the late arrivals spent less time during flights from the southern to the northern Yellow Sea, and stayed for a shorter time than the early arrivals in the northern Yellow Sea. We estimated that the later arrivals can still moult into full breeding plumage and deposit enough fuel for a flight to the breeding grounds before departure. We propose that early and latter migration are the two ends of migratory schedule, with the former adapting to unpredictable and rigorous environments and the latter to stable and favourable environments en route. Stopping sites play an important role for birds to adjust their migration schedule to meet optimal timing of arrival at migratory destination.