Research Article

Migrating Songbirds Recalibrate Their Magnetic Compass Daily from Twilight Cues

Science  16 Apr 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5669, pp. 405-408
DOI: 10.1126/science.1095844

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Abstract

Night migratory songbirds can use stars, sun, geomagnetic field, and polarized light for orientation when tested in captivity. We studied the interaction of magnetic, stellar, and twilight orientation cues in free-flying songbirds. We exposed Catharus thrushes to eastward-turned magnetic fields during the twilight period before takeoff and then followed them for up to 1100 kilometers. Instead of heading north, experimental birds flew westward. On subsequent nights, the same individuals migrated northward again. We suggest that birds orient with a magnetic compass calibrated daily from twilight cues. This could explain how birds cross the magnetic equator and deal with declination.

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