Partial Altitudinal Migration of a Himalayan Forest Pheasant
Altitudinal migration systems are poorly understood. Recent advances in animal telemetry which enables tracking of migrants across their annual cycles will help illustrate unknown migration patterns and test existing hypotheses. Using telemetry, we show the existence of a complex partial altitudinal migration system in the Himalayas and discuss our findings to help better understand partial and altitudinal migration.
We used GPS/accelerometer tags to monitor the migration of Satyr tragopan (Tragopan satyra) in the Bhutan Himalayas. We tagged 38 birds from 2009 – 2011 and found that tragopans are partially migratory. Fall migration lasted from the 3rd week of September till the 3rd week of November with migrants traveling distances ranging from 1.25 km to 13.5 km over 1 to 32 days. Snowfall did not influence the onset of migration. Return migration started by the 1st week of March and lasted until the 1st week of April. Individuals returned within 4 to 10 days and displayed site fidelity. One bird switched from being a migrant to a non-migrant. Tragopans displayed three main migration patterns: 1) crossing multiple mountains; 2) descending/ascending longitudinally; 3) moving higher up in winter and lower down in summer. More females migrated than males; but, within males, body size was not a factor for predicting migrants.
Our observations of migrants traversing over multiple mountain ridges and even of others climbing to higher elevations is novel. We support the need for existing hypotheses to consider how best to explain inter- as well as intra-sexual differences. Most importantly, having shown that the patterns of an altitudinal migration system are complex and not a simple up and down slope movement, we hope our findings will influence the way altitudinal migrations are perceived and thereby contribute to a better understanding of how species may respond to climate change.