Magnetic stop signs signal a European songbird’s arrival at the breeding site after migration

Authors: Joe Wynn, Oliver Padget, Henrik Mouritsen, Joe Morford, Paris Jaggers, Tim Guilford

Year: 2022

Publication: Science

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Abstract: Although it is known that birds can return to their breeding grounds with exceptional precision, it has remained a mystery how they know when and where to stop migrating. Using nearly a century’s worth of Eurasian reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) ringing recoveries, we investigated whether fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field predict variation in the sites to which birds return. Ringing recoveries suggest that magnetic inclination is learned before departure and is subsequently used as a uni-coordinate “stop sign” when relocating the natal or breeding site.
However, many locations have the same inclination angle. Data from populations with different migratory directions indicate that birds solve this ambiguity by stopping at the first place where the right inclination is encountered on an inherited return vector.

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