Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 6, pp 915-922

First online:

Tracking migration routes and the annual cycle of a trans-Sahara songbird migrant

  • Heiko SchmaljohannAffiliated withInstitute of Avian Research “Vogelwarte Helgoland” Email author 
  • , Martin BuchmannAffiliated withUnterer Sand 12
  • , James W. FoxAffiliated withMigrate Technology Ltd.
  • , Franz BairleinAffiliated withInstitute of Avian Research “Vogelwarte Helgoland”

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Movement ecology studies have highlighted the importance of individual-based research. As tracking devices have not been applicable for identifying year-around movements of small birds until recently, migration routes of such species relied on visual observations and ring recoveries. Within the Palaearctic–African migration system, loop migration seems to be the overall migration pattern. The interindividual variations within species-specific migration routes are, however, unknown. Here, we track the individual migration routes and annual cycles of male Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe, a trans-Sahara songbird migrant from a German breeding population with light-level geolocators. Two migrated most likely via Spain towards western Africa but returned via Corsica/Sardinia, while two others seemed to migrate via Sardinia and Corsica in autumn and via Spain and France in spring (loop migration). The fifth took presumably the same route via France and the Balearics in both seasons. All birds wintered in the Sahel zone of western Africa. Overall migration distances for autumn and spring were similar (about 4,100 km), whereas the overall migratory speed was generally higher in spring (126 km day−1) than in autumn (88 km day−1). Birds spent about 130 days at the breeding area and 147 days at the wintering grounds.


Avian migration Light-level geolocator Migration route Northern Wheatear Songbird Trans-Sahara migrant