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Frigate birds track atmospheric conditions over months-long transoceanic flights

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Science  01 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6294, pp. 74-78
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4374

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Abstract

Understanding how animals respond to atmospheric conditions across space is critical for understanding the evolution of flight strategies and long-distance migrations. We studied the three-dimensional movements and energetics of great frigate birds (Fregata minor) and showed that they can stay aloft for months during transoceanic flights. To do this, birds track the edge of the doldrums to take advantage of favorable winds and strong convection. Locally, they use a roller-coaster flight, relying on thermals and wind to soar within a 50- to 600-meter altitude band under cumulus clouds and then glide over kilometers at low energy costs. To deal with the local scarcity of clouds and gain longer gliding distances, birds regularly soar inside cumulus clouds to use their strong updraft, and they can reach altitudes of 4000 meters, where freezing conditions occur.

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