Geolocator study reveals east African migration route of Central European Common Terns

Authors: Jelena Kralj, Miloš Martinović, Luka Jurinović, Péter Szinai, Szandra Sütő, and Bálint Preiszner

Year: 2020

Publication: Avian Research

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Keywords: Inland population, Light-level geolocators, Mozambique Channel, Red Sea, Sterna hirundo, Stopover sites, Wintering area


Background: The majority of European Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) migrate south along the western coast of Europe and Africa, while birds from eastern regions are known to cross the Mediterranean Sea from east to west or migrate along the eastern African coast. The migration route of north European terns wintering along the coast of western Africa was already described using geolocator data, while knowledge about movements of the European inland populations is based only on relatively scarce recoveries of ringed birds.
Methods: We used light-level geolocators in inland Common Tern colonies in Hungary and Croatia to study their migration route and to identify wintering areas along with stopover sites. Results revealed by geolocators were compared with recoveries of ringed birds.
Results: All tracked birds used the east African migration route with autumn stopovers at Lower Nile and in the southern part of the Red Sea, and short spring stopover in Israel. Terns wintered along Kenyan coasts and in the southern Mozambique Channel. Autumn migration lasted four times longer than spring migration.
Conclusions: This is the first geolocator study that describes the east African migration route of the Common Tern. Important stopover sites were identified. More studies of inland populations are needed to better elucidate tern winter movements.

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