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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

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

Aya Kumagai*, Kentaro Kazama, Katsura Mikami, Yutaka Watanuki

*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 two colonies in Northern Hokkaido, Japan. A total of 90 flight track-lines within a 500 m radius of five coastal meteorological stations were analyzed. The median flight height ranged from 0–153.8 m, and the median ground and airspeed was 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 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.