Representing migration routes from re‑encounter data: a new method applied to ring recoveries of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) in Europe

Author(s): Musitelli F, Spina F, Møller AP, Rubolini D, Bairlein F, Baillie SR, Clark JA, Nikolov BP, du Feu C, Robinson RA, Saino N, Ambrosini R

Published: December 2018   Pages: 16pp

Journal: Journal of Ornithology Volume: 160

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1007/s10336-018-1612-6

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Bird ringing was established more than a century ago to gather information on bird movements. Since then, ornithologists have systematically collected huge databases of records of birds ringed and subsequently re-encountered, but, to date, there have been few quantitative attempts to identify migratory routes from ringing data. Here, we develop a novel, quantitative method for describing migration routes using ringing data and we applied it to a dataset of 72,827 ring recoveries of the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) through western and central Europe from the EURING and SAFRING databanks spanning 1908–2011. We considered movements of 332 individuals during spring migration and 1509 during autumn migration. The results indicate that, in spring, Barn Swallows enter western Europe through Gibraltar or by crossing the Mediterranean Sea through the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and the Italian peninsula. They then spread over a wide front. In northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands routes diverge, pointing toward either the British Isles or Denmark and Scandinavia. Autumn migration routes are similar to those in spring. The general migration pattern that emerged from the analyses was consistent with previous descriptions of migratory movements of this well-known species. However, this analysis also revealed some previously undocumented migration patterns. For instance, in spring, some migrants moved from the Balearic Islands to Corsica and Italy, thus making a rather long eastward crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. In autumn, some migrants moved from the Balkan Peninsula westwards toward Italy. Analyses restricted to recoveries within the same spring or the same autumn and to birds found dead showed similar patterns. Our procedure was, therefore, able to identify migration patterns over a large geographical area, and may be extended to those species for which large datasets of ring recoveries or sight-resight data are available.

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