Full-year tracking suggests endogenous control of migration timing in a long-distance migratory songbird

  • Lykke PedersenEmail author
  • Kayla Jackson
  • Kasper Thorup
  • Anders P. Tøttrup
Original Article


Following ongoing technological advances, an increasing amount of full-year tracking data on individual migratory movements is becoming available. This opens up the opportunity to study how migration develops within individuals in consecutive years and the extent to which the migratory program is constrained. Such knowledge is essential for understanding the degree of individual flexibility during the annual cycle, which may help identifying potential bottlenecks, where the range of individual decisions is restricted. In this study, we investigate repeatability in time of a long-distance migratory songbird, the red-backed shrike Lanius collurio, tracked across consecutive years (n = 7). Furthermore, we explore the population variability and dependencies between consecutive events of departure and arrival throughout the annual cycle in this species (n = 15). We find that individuals show high repeatability in timing of departure from their two main non-breeding areas in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, low repeatability is found in timing of arrivals to stationary sites throughout the annual cycle. Population variation in timing of departure and arrival was similar across all events, ranging from 30 to 41 days, and was highly dependent on timing of preceding events. We conclude that timing of departures is the key event potentially controlled by the individual innate migration program, while arrivals are more flexible, likely dependent on the environmental conditions experienced en route in red-backed shrikes. Still, apparent flexibility in the individual schedule may be hampered by overall constraints of the annual cycle.

Significance statement

The annual migration schedule of migratory animals is controlled by a combination of endogenous and exogenous factors. Understanding the temporal dynamics within and between individuals across the annual cycle is important to assess to which extent the migratory schedule is constrained in time. By using full-annual cycle tracking data of individual red-backed shrikes tracked across consecutive years, we find that individuals are highly consistent in their decision to depart from their main non-breeding areas in sub-Saharan Africa, whereas arrivals are less consistent throughout the annual cycle. Overall, the migration schedule is highly constrained across the annual cycle, with each arrival and departure event being dependent on the previous event. Our results suggest that departure decision is underlying endogenous control and that little flexibility is available throughout this complex migration system.


Repeatability Migration Endogenous control Timing Geolocator Lanius collurio 



We thank P. Ekberg, T.E. Ortvad, T.L. Petersen, P.S. Jørgensen, D. Papageorgiou, D.P. Eskildsen, R. Strandberg, R. Klaassen, Y. Vardanis, and M. Ström-Eriksson for field assistance. We thank two anonymous reviewers for valuable suggestions that helped improve this paper and S. Davidson for setting up the data in the Movebank Data Repository. We acknowledge the Aage V Jensen Foundation as well as the Danish National Research Foundation for supporting the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (Grant No. DNRF96).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures in this study complied with the ethical standards of Danish and Swedish authorities. Capture and sampling methods, including spring-traps, were approved by the Copenhagen Bird Ringing Center with permission from the Danish Nature Agency ( SN 302-009). In Sweden, capture methods were approved by the Swedish Ringing Center with permission from the ethical committees in Malmö/Lund (M112-09).

Supplementary material

265_2018_2553_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 28904 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of DenmarkUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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