Migrating birds make strategic decisions at multiple temporal and spatial scales. They must select flight altitudes, speeds, and orientations in order to maintain preferred directions of movement and to minimize energy expenditure and risk. Spring flights follow a rapid phenology, but how this rapid transit translates to in-flight decisions is not clear. We described flight strategies of nocturnally migrating landbirds using 6 weather surveillance radars during spring (2013–2015) and fall (2013–2014) migratory periods in the eastern United States to investigate seasonal decision-making patterns and how climate change may influence these trends. During spring, we found groundspeed and airspeed of migrants to be significantly higher than those of fall migrants; compensation for wind drift was also significantly greater during spring. Our results indicate that birds make more rapid and precise flights in spring that are only partially explained by meteorological phenomena. Future applications at greater spatial scales will allow direct comparisons of in-flight behaviors with predictions from migration theory.
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