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Keywords:

  • bird migration;
  • bird strikes;
  • cross-validation;
  • prediction;
  • radar ornithology;
  • robustness;
  • weather influence

Summary

  • 1
    Forecasting migration intensity can improve flight safety and reduce the operational costs of collisions between aircraft and migrating birds. This is particularly true for military training flights, which can be rescheduled if necessary and often take place at low altitudes and during the night. Migration intensity depends strongly on weather conditions but reported effects of weather differ among studies. It is therefore unclear to what extent existing predictive models can be extrapolated to new situations.
  • 2
    We used radar measurements of bird densities in the Netherlands to analyse the relationship between weather and nocturnal migration. Using our data, we tested the performance of three regression models that have been developed for other locations in Europe. We developed and validated new models for different combinations of years to test whether regression models can be used to predict migration intensity in independent years. Model performance was assessed by comparing model predictions against benchmark predictions based on measured migration intensity of the previous night and predictions based on a 6-year average trend. We also investigated the effect of the size of the calibration data set on model robustness.
  • 3
    All models performed better than the benchmarks, but the mismatch between measurements and predictions was large for existing models. Model performance was best for newly developed regression models. The performance of all models was best at intermediate migration intensities. The performance of our models clearly increased with sample size, up to about 90 nocturnal migration measurements. Significant input variables included seasonal migration trend, wind profit, 24-h trend in barometric pressure and rain.
  • 4
    Synthesis and applications. Migration intensities can be forecast with a regression model based on meteorological data. This and other existing models are only valid locally and cannot be extrapolated to new locations. Model development for new locations requires data sets with representative inter- and intraseasonal variability so that cross-validation can be applied effectively. The Royal Netherlands Air Force currently uses the regression model developed in this study to predict migration intensities 3 days ahead. This improves the reliability of migration intensity warnings and allows rescheduling of training flights if needed.