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Field validation of radar systems for monitoring bird migration

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Advances in information technology are increasing the use of radar as a tool to investigate and monitor bird migration movements. We set up a field campaign to compare and validate outputs from different radar systems. Here we compare the pattern of nocturnal bird migration movements recorded by four different radar systems at a site in southern Sweden. Within the range of the weather radar (WR) Ängelholm, we operated a “BirdScan” (BS) dedicated bird radar, a standard marine radar (MR), and a tracking radar (TR). The measures of nightly migration intensities, provided by three of the radars (WR, BS, MR), corresponded well with respect to the relative seasonal course of migration, while absolute migration intensity agreed reasonably only between WR and BS. Flight directions derived from WR, BS and TR corresponded very well, despite very different sample sizes. Estimated mean ground speeds differed among all four systems. The correspondence among systems was highest under clear sky conditions and at high altitudes. Synthesis and applications. While different radar systems can provide useful information on nocturnal bird migration, they have distinct strengths and weaknesses, and all require supporting data to allow for species level inference. Weather radars continuously detect avian biomass flows across a wide altitude band, making them a useful tool for monitoring and predictive applications at regional to continental scales that do not rely on resolving individuals. BirdScan and marine radar’s strengths are in local and low altitude applications, such as collision risks with man‐made structures and airport safety, although marine radars should not be trusted for absolute intensities of movement. In quantifying flight behaviour of individuals, tracking radars are the most informative.
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Keywords: bird migration; environmental assessment studies; flight behaviour; ground speed; migration traffic rate; nocturnal migration; radar monitoring; weather radar

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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