Feb 23 2015
When you know a bird’s winter and summer homes, can you guess the route it takes on migration? Not necessarily.
Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) spends the summer on islands in the Mediterranean and winters at Madagascar. How does it travel from Europe to that big island east of Africa? For decades ornithologists assumed it followed the coast — the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
The assumption makes sense because in Europe Eleonora’s falcons eat small birds that they capture in the air over the sea. Of course this falcon would take a water route … until a 2009 tracking study proved it wrong.
From 2007 to 2009, researchers from the Universities of Valencia and Alicante satellite tagged and tracked 16 Eleanora falcons on the Balearic and Columbretes Islands off the coast of Spain. The data showed the falcons indeed spent the winter on Madagascar but they didn’t take the long, dog-leg coastal route to get there.
If you draw a straight line from the western Mediterranean to Madagascar it crosses 6,000 miles (more than 9,500 km) of the African continent. That’s what the falcons did. Flying both day and night they even crossed the Sahara.
Perhaps they were eating insects as they flew. That’s what they do in Madagascar.
Read more here at EurekAlert.
(photo of satellite tagged Eleonor’as falcon by Pacual López/ SINC via EurekAlert)