Most papers on the physical condition of birds during spring migration focused on food availability preceding migratory take-off. Only a few studies examined the effect of climate conditions at the wintering grounds upon autumn arrival on bird physical condition later on. Here, we hypothesized that environmental conditions upon arrival at the wintering grounds, and not necessarily upon departure, have a crucial carry-over effect on bird spring migration. Using 29,000 observations of the lesser whitethroat, Sylvia curruca, and the eastern Bonelli's warbler, Phylloscopus orientalis, we found temperatures upon arrival at the African wintering grounds to be the only climatic variable correlated with birds' body state upon spring stopover in Israel, six months later. Two different mechanisms could explain these results. One possibility is that high temperatures create favorable conditions for insect activity, which allows rapid recovery from autumn migration and hence successful winter survival and maintenance. Another possible scenario is that harsh conditions, due to the heat and dry environment, cause high mortality, permitting survival of larger individuals which, then, enjoy reduced inter- and intra-specific competition. Whatever the mechanism is, our findings suggest that conditions upon autumn arrival, and not necessarily at the end of winter as traditionally thought, may have a major impact on migrating birds.
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© 2019 Aloni et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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