Orientation of juvenile barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) tested in Emlen funnels during autumn migration
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Although hirundines have been used extensively in homing experiments, to date no investigation of their migratory orientation has been carried out, despite the well-known migratory habits of many species of this family. This paper reports on a study of the orientation of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), a typical diurnal trans-Saharan migrant. Modified Emlen funnels were used to verify the suitability of this species for cage experiments and investigate the role of visual and magnetic cues during the birds’ first migratory journey. Juvenile swallows were mist-netted at a roost site in central Italy and then tested in a site 19 km apart. Orientation experiments were performed under four experimental conditions: natural clear sky and simulated overcast, in both local and shifted magnetic fields (magnetic North=geographical West). Under clear sky, the swallows tended to orient phototactically toward the best-lit part of the funnel and failed to respond to the magnetic field shift. Under overcast conditions, they oriented northward and modified their directional choices as expected in response to the shifted magnetic North. On the whole, our data indicate that swallows can use magnetic information for compass orientation. Possible explanations for the northward orientation of birds tested under overcast conditions are discussed.