Santos, C.D., Hanssen, F., Muñoz, A-R., Onrubia, A., Wikelski, M., May, R. & Silva, J.P. (2017) Match between soaring modes of black kites and the fine-scale distribution of updrafts.Scientific Reports, 7(6421), 1-10. DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-05319-8 (IF2016 4,259; Q1 Multidisciplinary Sciences)
Understanding how soaring birds use updrafts at small spatial scales is important to identify ecological constraints of movement, and may help to prevent conflicts between wind-energy development and the conservation of wildlife. We combined high-frequency GPS animal tracking and fine-spatial-scale uplift modelling to establish a link between flight behaviour of soaring birds and the distribution of updrafts. We caught 21 black kites (Milvus migrans) and GPS-tracked them while flying over the Tarifa region, on the Spanish side of the Strait of Gibraltar. This region has a diverse topography and land cover, favouring a heterogeneous updraft spatial distribution. Bird tracks were segmented and classified into flight modes from motion parameters. Thermal and orographic uplift velocities were modelled from publically available remote-sensing and meteorological data. We found that birds perform circular soaring in areas of higher predicted thermal uplift and linear soaring in areas of higher predicted orographic uplift velocity. We show that updraft maps produced from publically available data can be used to predict where soaring birds will concentrate their flight paths and how they will behave in flight. We recommend the use of this methodological approach to improve environmental impact assessments of new wind-energy installations.