Resource predictability drives interannual variation in migratory behavior in a long-lived bird

Jan Baert, Eric Stienen, Frederick Verbruggen, Nico Van de Weghe, Luc Lens, Wendt Müller

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


There is a growing awareness that experience may play a major role in migratory decisions, especially in long-lived species. However, empirical support remains to date scarce. Here, we use multiyear GPS-tracking data on 28 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus), a long-lived species for which migratory strategies typically consist of a series of long stopovers, to assess how experience affects interannual variation in stopover selection. We expect that food source reliability should play a pivotal role, as it both reduces the uncertainty on food availability across years, and enables for more efficient foraging during stopovers by reducing searching efforts. We found that during stopovers gulls indeed developed high fidelity to particular foraging locations, which strongly reduced the daily distance travelled for foraging. When revisiting stopovers in consecutive years, birds used over 80% of foraging locations from the previous year. Although the average fidelity to stopovers across years was a high as 85%, stopovers where birds showed high foraging site fidelity were up to 60% more likely to be revisited compared to stopover with low foraging site fidelity. Accordingly, birds using more stopovers with reliable foraging opportunities showed significantly less interannual variation in their stopover use than birds using stopovers with less reliable foraging opportunities. Our results thus highlight the need to further deepen our understanding of the role of cognitive processes in individual variation in migratory behavior.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2022

Thematic List 2020

  • Protected nature

Thematic list

  • Sea and coastal birds

EWI Biomedical sciences

  • B280-animal-ecology

Taxonomic list

  • gulls and terns (Laridae and Sternidae)


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