Abstract:Most Arctic-breeding waders wintering in West Africa cover the first 4000 km of their northward journey in spring by a single flight to western Europe. We examined the extent to which waders economize their flight behaviour during departure by comparing climb rates and forward flight speeds with predictions based on flight mechanic theory and the relevant morphological measurements made of birds collected on the site. With an optical range finder, we followed 98 wader flocks on their departure from Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania. We also measured wind speed and direction at different altitudes by tracking helium-filled balloons and thus were able to deduce airspeeds from groundspeeds of the departing flocks. Of the nine species examined, six showed the predicted negative relationship between climb rate and airspeed, although only one was statistically significant. By normalizing the data, we found a statistically significant negative correlation across all species. Although 17% of the observed climb rates were greater than the predicted theoretical maximum, the average observed climb rate was lower than the predicted optimum and the average observed airspeed was higher. The absolute deviations of climb rates from theory may have been because of the existence of pockets of rising and sinking air at the boundary of desert and ocean. That the absolute deviations in average climb rate and airspeed followed the predicted negative relationship is in accordance with the current theory of flight mechanics.