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Tornadic storm avoidance behavior in breeding songbirds

January 1, 2015

Migration is a common behavior used by animals of many taxa to occupy different habitats during different periods. Migrant birds are categorized as either facultative (i.e., those that are forced to migrate by some proximal cue, often weather) or obligate (i.e., those that migrate on a regular cycle). During migration, obligate migrants can curtail or delay flights in response to inclement weather or until favorable winds prevail, and they can temporarily reorient or reverse direction when ecological or meteorological obstacles are encountered. However, it is not known whether obligate migrants undertake facultative migrations and make large-scale movements in response to proximal cues outside of their regular migration periods. Here, we present the first documentation of obligate long-distance migrant birds undertaking a facultative migration, wherein breeding golden-winged warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) carrying light-level geolocators performed a >1,500 km 5-day circumvention of a severe tornadic storm. The birds evacuated their breeding territories >24 hr before the arrival of the storm and atmospheric variation associated with it. The probable cue, radiating >1,000 km from tornadic storms, perceived by birds and influencing bird behavior and movements, is infrasound (i.e., sound below the range of human hearing). With the predicted increase in severity and frequency of similar storms as anthropogenic climate change progresses, understanding large-scale behavioral responses of animals to such events will be an important objective of future research.

Publication Year 2015
Title Tornadic storm avoidance behavior in breeding songbirds
DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.079
Authors Henry M. Streby, Gunnar R. Kramer, Sean M. Peterson, Justin A. Lehman, David A. Buehler, David E. Andersen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Current Biology
Index ID 70187298
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Leetown