Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 200, Issue 5, pp 399–407 | Cite as

Orientation of migratory birds under ultraviolet light

  • Roswitha WiltschkoEmail author
  • Ursula Munro
  • Hugh Ford
  • Katrin Stapput
  • Peter Thalau
  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
Original Paper


In view of the finding that cryptochrome 1a, the putative receptor molecule for the avian magnetic compass, is restricted to the ultraviolet single cones in European Robins, we studied the orientation behaviour of robins and Australian Silvereyes under monochromatic ultraviolet (UV) light. At low intensity UV light of 0.3 mW/m2, birds showed normal migratory orientation by their inclination compass, with the directional information originating in radical pair processes in the eye. At 2.8 mW/m2, robins showed an axial preference in the east–west axis, whereas silvereyes preferred an easterly direction. At 5.7 mW/m2, robins changed direction to a north–south axis. When UV light was combined with yellow light, robins showed easterly ‘fixed direction’ responses, which changed to disorientation when their upper beak was locally anaesthetised with xylocaine, indicating that they were controlled by the magnetite-based receptors in the beak. Orientation under UV light thus appears to be similar to that observed under blue, turquoise and green light, albeit the UV responses occur at lower light levels, probably because of the greater light sensitivity of the UV cones. The orientation under UV light and green light suggests that at least at the level of the retina, magnetoreception and vision are largely independent of each other.


Magnetoreception UV cones Monochromatic light Migratory orientation ‘Fixed direction’ responses 



Our work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grants to WW and RW). We sincerely thank H.J. Bischof, Universität Bielefeld, and L. Peichl, Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt am Main, for valuable discussions and comments, F. Geiser, University of New England, Armidale, for his logistic help and all students who participated in conducting the experiments, in particular S. Denzau and D. Gehring.

Ethical statement

The animal care and the performance of the experiments were in agreements with the laws, rules and regulations for animal welfare in Australia and Germany.

Supplementary material

359_2014_898_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (43 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 43 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roswitha Wiltschko
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ursula Munro
    • 2
  • Hugh Ford
    • 3
  • Katrin Stapput
    • 1
  • Peter Thalau
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
    • 1
  1. 1.Fachbereich Biowissenschaften derJ.W.Goethe-Universität FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.School of the EnvironmentUniversity of Technology, SydneyBroadwayAustralia
  3. 3.Division of Zoology, School of Environmental and Rural SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia

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