Remotely sensed wind speed predicts soaring behaviour in a wide-ranging pelagic seabird.
Gibb R., Shoji A., Fayet AL., Perrins CM., Guilford T., Freeman R.
Global wind patterns affect flight strategies in many birds, including pelagic seabirds, many of which use wind-powered soaring to reduce energy costs during at-sea foraging trips and migration. Such long-distance movement patterns are underpinned by local interactions between wind conditions and flight behaviour, but these fine-scale relationships are far less well understood. Here we show that remotely sensed ocean wind speed and direction are highly significant predictors of soaring behaviour in a migratory pelagic seabird, the Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus). We used high-frequency GPS tracking data (10 Hz) and statistical behaviour state classification to identify two energetic modes in at-sea flight, corresponding to flap-like and soar-like flight. We show that soaring is significantly more likely to occur in tailwinds and crosswinds above a wind speed threshold of around 8 m s-1, suggesting that these conditions enable birds to reduce metabolic costs by preferentially soaring over flapping. Our results suggest a behavioural mechanism by which wind conditions may shape foraging and migration ecology in pelagic seabirds, and thus indicate that shifts in wind patterns driven by climate change could impact this and other species. They also emphasize the emerging potential of high-frequency GPS biologgers to provide detailed quantitative insights into fine-scale flight behaviour in free-living animals.