A long-distance avian migrant compensates for longitudinal displacement during spring migration

Nikita Chernetsov, Dmitry Kishkinev, Henrik Mouritsen
Current Biology: CB 2008 February 12, 18 (3): 188-90
In order to perform true bicoordinate navigation, migratory birds need to be able to determine geographic latitude and longitude. The determination of latitude is relatively easy from either stellar or magnetic cues [1-3], but the determination of longitude seems challenging [4, 5]. It has therefore been suggested that migrating birds are unable to perform bicoordinate navigation and that they probably only determine latitude during their return migration [5]. However, proper testing of this hypothesis requires displacement experiments with night-migratory songbirds in spring that have not been performed. We therefore displaced migrating Eurasian reed warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) during spring migration about 1000 km toward the east and found that they were correcting for displacements by shifting their orientation from the northeast at the capture site to the northwest after the displacement. This new direction would lead them to their expected breeding areas. Our results suggest that Eurasian reed warblers are able to determine longitude and perform bicoordinate navigation. This finding is surprising and presents a new intellectual challenge to bird migration researchers, namely, which cues enable birds to determine their east-west position.

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