Official journal of the Netherlands Ornithologists' Union
|Zwarts L., Bijlsma R.G. & van der Kamp J. (2023) The Gap of Chad, a dearth of migratory birds in the central Sahel. ARDEA 111 (1): 207-226
|Many migratory bird species cross the Mediterranean during autumn migration, but most do so either at the western or eastern ends where they can avoid, or minimise, sea crossings. The intervening 3500 km has long sea crossings, probably adding to the barrier imposed by the Sahara. If this were the general migration pattern, it would result in high concentrations of Afro-Palearctic migrants in West and East Africa and fewer in the central sub-Saharan zones. Unless migrants reorientate upon reaching the sub-Sahara, densities of migratory birds in the central Sahel should be much lower than at either end of the African savannah range. The available studies of birds equipped with GPS or geolocators show that south of the Sahara at least some species perform lateral movements to some extent. However, many remain either in the Sahel’s western or eastern parts or continue moving southwards along the same longitudinal axis. We use density counts of arboreal birds from across the full width of the Sahel to explore the extent to which the central Sahel zone is underused by migratory birds. Eleven out of twelve common migratory arboreal species occurred at lower densities in the central Sahel than could be explained by tree-related variables. Western Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli, Western Orphean Warbler Curruca hortensis and Subalpine Warbler Curruca cantillans were most common in the western and (much) less common in the central Sahel, whereas Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Iduna pallida, Eastern Orphean Warbler Curruca crassirostris, Lesser Whitethroat Curruca curruca and Rüppell’s Warbler Curruca ruppeli were most common in eastern, but less so in the central Sahel. Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator and Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus were more common in the western and eastern parts than in the central Sahel. No longitudinal variation was found for Common Whitethroat Curruca communis, which is consistent with the knowledge that many cross the Mediterranean waters upon encountering them. The conclusion is justified that the central Sahel is underused by migratory birds and by consequence, as far as these birds are concerned, not ‘saturated’. The question arises whether in the past, when the number of migratory birds was much greater than today, there might not have been a Gap of Chad.