Naive songbirds show seasonally appropriate spring orientation in the laboratory despite having never completed first migration

Authors: Joe Wynn, Bo Leberecht, Miriam Liedvogel, Lars Burnus, Raisa Chetverikova, Sara Döge, Thiemo Karwinkel, Dmitry Kobylkov, Jingjing Xu, and Henrik Mouritsen

Year: 2023

Publication: Biology Letters

Publication Link:

Abstract: The role of inherited orientation programmes in determining the outbound
migratory routes of birds is increasingly well understood, though less is
known about the influence of inherited information on return migration. Previous
studies suggest that spatial gradient cues learnt through experience
could be of considerable importance when relocating the natal site, though
such cues could, in principle, augment rather than replace inherited migratory
information. Here, we show that juvenile Eurasian blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)
that have never left northwest Europe (i.e. never had the opportunity to learn
navigational information on a continental scale) show significant spring
orientation in a direction near-identical to that expected based on ringing
recoveries from free-flying individuals. We suggest that this is probably indicative
of birds inheriting an orientation programme for spring as well as autumn
migration and speculate that, as long as the birds are not displaced far
from their normal migration route, the use of inherited spring migratory
trajectories might make uni-coordinate ‘stop signs’ sufficiently accurate for
the long-distance targeting of their breeding sites.

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