Wind prevents cliff-breeding birds from accessing nests through loss of flight control

Shepard, Emily; Cole, Emma-Louise; Neate, Andrew; Lempidakis, Emmanouil and Ross, Andrew (2019). Wind prevents cliff-breeding birds from accessing nests through loss of flight control. eLife, 8

DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.43842

Abstract

For fast-flying birds, the ability to respond to wind during landing is critical, as errors can lead to injury or even death. Nonetheless, landing ability, and its ecological significance, remain unstudied. We show that for auks, 60% of attempts to land at their cliff nests fail in a strong breeze (80% in near-gale winds). This is most likely because wind interferes with the ability to maintain flight control in the last phase of landing. Their extreme flight costs mean that the energetic penalty for multiple landing attempts is high. We propose that exposure, and ability to respond to, such conditions will influence the suitability of breeding habitat. In support of this (i) auk colonies appear to be orientated away from prevailing winds and (ii) landing success within colonies is higher on crowded ledges with more airspace for manoeuvring. More generally, the interplay between wind and flight capacities could impact breeding distributions across species and scales.

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