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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 723:201-212 (2023)  -  DOI:

Black-tailed gulls alter their flight height and airspeed according to wind conditions during their coastal commuting trips

Aya Kumagai1,2,*, Kentaro Kazama3, Katsura Mikami1, Yutaka Watanuki1

1Division of Marine Bioresources and Environmental Science, Graduate School of Fisheries Sciences, Hokkaido University, Hokkaido 041-8611, Japan
2College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA
3Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University, Saitama 359-1192, Japan
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Seabirds are expected to increase their flight height in tailwind and to increase their airspeed in headwind during goal-oriented flight to minimize their cost of transport. To understand how flapping birds respond to variability in wind speed and direction experienced during their commuting flights between their breeding colony and foraging areas, we measured the flight height and speed of black-tailed gulls Larus crassirostris using GPS loggers. We analyzed the relationships between these flight parameters and local wind speed and direction. Over the course of the 2016 to 2018 breeding seasons, we tagged 105 birds at 2 colonies in northern Hokkaido, Japan. A total of 90 flight track-lines within a 500 m radius of 5 coastal meteorological stations were analyzed. The median flight height ranged from 0 to 153.8 m, and the median ground speed and airspeed were between 18.6-82.1 and 19.5-93.0 km h-1, respectively. Gulls flew higher with greater tailwind speed, supporting the hypothesis that birds utilize greater wind assistance at higher altitudes. Furthermore, gulls increased their airspeed under strong headwind conditions, suggesting they adjust airspeed to achieve the most cost-effective speed to reach their destination. Better understanding the drivers of seabird flight height is key to assessing the potential for collisions with wind turbines in coastal and offshore wind farms. These findings provide useful information to reduce collisions with coastal and offshore wind facilities.

KEY WORDS: Larus crassirostris · Airspeed · Collision · Flight height · GPS tracking · Wind turbine · Optimal flight theory · Wind conditions

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Cite this article as: Kumagai A, Kazama K, Mikami K, Watanuki Y (2023) Black-tailed gulls alter their flight height and airspeed according to wind conditions during their coastal commuting trips. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 723:201-212.

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