The lower atmosphere (i.e. aerosphere) is critical habitat for migrant birds. This habitat is vast and little is known about the spatio-temporal patterns of distribution and abundance of migrants in it. Increased human encroachment into the aerosphere makes understanding where and when migratory birds use this airspace a key to reducing human–wildlife conflicts. We use weather surveillance radar to describe large-scale height distributions of nocturnally migrating birds and interpret these distributions as aggregate habitat selection behaviours of individual birds. As such, we detail wind cues that influence selection of flight heights. Using six radars in the eastern USA during the spring (2013–2015) and autumn (2013 and 2014), we found migrants tended to adjust their heights according to favourable wind profit. We found that migrants' flight altitudes correlated most closely with the altitude of maximum wind profit; however, absolute differences in flight heights and height of maximum wind profit were large. Migrants tended to fly slightly higher at inland sites compared with coastal sites during spring, but not during autumn. Migration activity was greater at coastal sites during autumn, but not during spring. This characterization of bird migration represents a critical advance in our understanding of migrant distributions in flight and a new window into habitat selection behaviours.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3573219.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.