Orientation in Birds

Volume 60 of the series Experientia Supplementum pp 16-37

Magnetic Orientation and Celestial Cues in Migratory Orientation

  • Wolfgang WiltschkoAffiliated withFB Biologie, Universität, Zoologie
  • , Roswitha WiltschkoAffiliated withFB Biologie, Universität, Zoologie

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Young birds on their first migration possess innate information on the direction of their migration route. It is represented twice, using both celestial rotation and the geomagnetic field as references. These two systems, together with information provided by factors associated with sunset, interact in a complex way to establish the migratory direction. During ontogeny, celestial rotation appears to be dominant; during migration, however, celestial cues appear to be controlled by the magnetic field. — The factors associated with sunset — the view of the setting sun and the characteristic pattern of polarized light — are important secondary cues which seem to derive their directional significance from the magnetic field. Their role appears to be more variable, with possible species-specific differences.

During spring migration and later autumn migrations, flying in the migratory direction is complemented by navigational processes which enable the birds to return to a specific home site known from previous stays.