Author(s): J T Mandela, K L Bildstein, G Bohrer, D W Winkler
We develop individual-based movement ecology models (MEM) to explore turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) migration decisions at both hourly and daily scales. Vulture movements in 10 migration events were recorded with satellite-reporting GPS sensors, and flight behavior was observed visually, aided by on-the-ground VHF radio-tracking. We used the North American Regional Reanalysis dataset to obtain values for wind speed, turbulent kinetic energy (TKE), and cloud height and used a digital elevation model for a measure of terrain ruggedness. A turkey vulture fitted with a heart-rate logger during 124 h of flight during 38 contiguous days showed only a small increase in mean heart rate as distance traveled per day increased, which suggests that, unlike flapping, soaring flight does not lead to greatly increased metabolic costs. Data from 10 migrations for 724 hourly segments and 152 daily segments showed that vultures depended heavily upon high levels of TKE in the atmospheric boundary layer to increase flight distances and maintain preferred bearings at both hourly and daily scales. We suggest how the MEM can be extended to other spatial and temporal scales of avian migration. Our success in relating model-derived atmospheric variables to migration indicates the potential of using regional reanalysis data, as here, and potentially other regional, higher-resolution, atmospheric models in predicting changing movement patterns of soaring birds under various scenarios of climate and land use change.