The aerial environment is heterogeneous in space and time and directly influences the costs of animal flight. Volant animals can reduce these costs by using different flight modes, each with their own benefits and constraints. However, the extent to which animals alter their flight modes in response to environmental conditions has rarely been studied in the wild. To provide insight into how a flight generalist can reduce the energetic cost of movement, we studied flight behaviour in relation to the aerial environmental and landscape using hundreds of hours of global positioning system and triaxial acceleration measurements of the lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus). Individuals differed largely in the time spent in flight, which increased linearly with the time spent in flight at sea. In general, flapping was used more frequently than more energetically efficient soaring flight. The probability of soaring increased with increasing boundary layer height and time closer to midday, reflecting improved convective conditions supportive of thermal soaring. Other forms of soaring flight were also used, including fine-scale use of orographic lift. We explore the energetic consequences of behavioural adaptations to the aerial environment and underlying landscape and implications for individual energy budgets, foraging ecology and reproductive success.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.
One contribution of 17 to a theme issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.
- Accepted May 3, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.