Each year more than two billion songbirds cross the Sahara, but how they perform this formidable task is largely unknown. Using geolocation tracks from 27 pied flycatchers, a nocturnally migrating passerine, we show that most birds made diurnal flights in both autumn and spring. These diurnal flights were estimated to be part of non-stop flights of mostly 40–60 h. In spring, birds flew across the Sahara, while autumn migration probably circumpassed part of the desert, through a long oversea flight. Our data contradict claims that passerines cross the Sahara by intermittent flight and daytime resting. The frequent occurrence of long non-stop flights to cross the desert shows migrants' physiological abilities and poses the question why this would not be the general migration strategy to cross the Sahara.
- Received December 17, 2015.
- Accepted March 11, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.