The development of migratory orientation mechanisms

K P Able
EXS 1991, 60: 166-79
Recent experimental studies (since ca. 1985) on the ontogeny of orientation mechanisms in migratory birds are reviewed. The processes and interactions are synthesized into a framework that may help identify critical research questions. Birds that grow up in the earth's magnetic field develop the ability to perform appropriate migratory orientation, even in the absence of any experience with relevant visual cues. In two species, large changes in direction during the course of migration seem to be controlled by an endogenous time program. In one of these, the Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), the correct magnetic orientation seems to occur only when the magnetic fields appropriate to the latitudes encountered en route were experienced at the proper seasonal time. The magnetic compass may be modified by visual experience with either the day or night sky. Celestial rotation may be the calibrating reference in this case, as it is in the development of the star compass. Young Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) learn to perform compass orientation at sunset based on polarized skylight. This compass capability seems to be calibrated by magnetic directions. Some problems of experimental design and the interpretation of results from experiments on development are discussed.

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