Migrants make numerous decisions regarding the timing, routes, and destinations of their movements throughout their lifetime, each of which affects the costs, benefits, and risks of their journeys. We, the Flack flock, explore the elements that shape migratory decisions by exploring decision-making processes, their underlying behavioral mechanisms, and their long-term ecological and evolutionary implications using various experimental and observational approaches.
Our model system is the white stork because it exhibits large variations in behavioral phenotypes across its wide breeding range. It, therefore, provides a natural setup for disentangling inherited and learned aspects of migration, with the accompanying effects on fitness and population demography. In addition, white storks rely on their social environment when it comes to detecting favorable flight conditions, choosing migratory flyways, and most likely also breeding, stopover, and overwintering sites. We are currently exploring the impact of various social (and nonsocial) factors on the ontogeny of long-distance bird migration behavior by combining ecological in situ observations with experimental behavioral research. Using state-of-the-art high-resolution biologging, including high-resolution GPS, accelerometers, magnetometers, heart rate loggers, and on-board cameras, in combination with experimental approaches like delayed-releases, translocations, and cross-fostering experiments, we are studying the underlying causes for behavioral variation among individuals from within and across populations.