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Flocking behaviour in swifts

In a recent study, published in International Journal of Avian Science, Cecilia Nilsson and Johan Bäckman together with a collegue from Cornell University investigated the behaviour of common swifts during dusk and dawn using tracking radar.
Flocking swifts
Photo: Susanne Åkesson

Their results offer the first concrete support of the theory that interactions between individuals may play a role in twilight ascents, but only during the rapid ascent (dusk) and decent (dawn) phases.

Abstract: Among the many unique flight behaviours of Common Swifts Apus apus, the most puzzling may be their ascents to high altitudes during both dusk and dawn. Twilight ascents have been hypothesized to be functionally related to information acquisition, including integration of celestial orientation cues, high‐altitude visual landmarks and sampling of weather conditions. However, their exact purpose remains unknown. We tracked Common Swifts with tracking radar at their breeding grounds in southern Sweden, and present evidence that during the dusk ascent and dawn descent they often occur in flocks, whereas during the dusk descent and dawn ascent phase they do not. This flocking behaviour suggests that swifts may benefit from conspecific interactions during twilight ascents and descents, possibly through more robust cue acquisition and information exchange in groups, or extending social behaviour also seen in screaming parties before dusk.

To the paper: "Flocking behaviour in the twilight ascents of Common Swifts Apus apus"

 

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Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden