Patterns in diurnal airspace use by migratory landbirds along an ecological barrier

Anna C. Peterson, Gerald J. Niemi, Douglas H. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Migratory bird populations and survival are affected by conditions experienced during migration. While many studies and conservation and management efforts focus on terrestrial stoppage and staging areas, the aerial environment through which migrants move also is subjected to anthropogenic impacts with potential consequences to migratory movement and survival. During autumn migration, the northern coastline of Lake Superior acts as an ecological barrier for many landbirds migrating out of the boreal forests of North America. From 24 observation points, we assessed the diurnal movements of birds throughout autumn migration, 2008-2010, within a 210 3 10 km coastal region along the northern coast of Lake Superior. Several raptor species showed patterns in airspace associated with topographic features such as proximity to the coastline and presence of ridgelines. Funneling movement, commonly used to describe the concentration of raptors along a migratory diversion line that either prevents or enhances migration progress, occurred only for Bald and Golden Eagles. This suggests a ''leaky'' migration funnel for most migratory raptors (e.g., migrating birds exiting the purported migration corridor). Passerines migrating during the late season showed more spatial and temporal structure in airspace distribution than raptors did, including funneling and an association with airspace near the coast. We conclude that (1) the diurnal use of airspace by many migratory landbirds is patterned in space and time, (2) autumn count sites situated along ecological barriers substantially underestimate the number of raptors due to ''leakage'' out of these concentration areas, and (3) the magnitude and structure of diurnal passerine movements in airspace have been overlooked. The heavy and structured use of airspace by migratory landbirds, especially the airspace associated with anthropogenic development (e.g., buildings, towers, turbines) necessitates a shift in focus to airspace management and conservation attention for these animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)673-684
Number of pages12
JournalEcological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2015 by the Ecological Society of America.


  • Aeroecology
  • Airspace conservation
  • Airspace habitat
  • Ecological barrier
  • Lake superior
  • Landbird migration.


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