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Ecological causes and consequences of bird orientation

Summary

An advanced orientation capability offers possibilities for birds to optimize movement patterns in a wide variety of ecological situations. The adaptive significance of different patterns of angular dispersion and of orientation responses to topography and sociality are elucidated. The orientation capacity is characterized by flexibility, exemplified by reorientation promoting safety and restoration of fat reserves during migration. There are also limitations to the orientation process, leading to costs of migration through mis- or disorientation, and to constraints on the evolution of routes and timing of migratory flights. Young migrants may acquire an erroneous compass sense, and misorient several thousands of kilometers off their normal course. Widespread and dense fog of long duration causes disorientation and mortality among land birds migrating over the sea. Orientational constraints in the evolution of migration routes may be most easily disclosed at high geographic and magnetic latitudes. Here the birds are faced with special difficulties in using their celestial as well as their magnetic compasses. The sun compass could be used for great circle orientation, but observed spring flight trajectories of high arctic shorebirds and geese seem to conform with rhumbline routes.

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Alerstam, T. Ecological causes and consequences of bird orientation. Experientia 46, 405–415 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01952174

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Key words

  • Bird migration
  • orientation
  • angular dispersion
  • leading-lines
  • flocking
  • reorientation
  • misorientation
  • disorientation
  • great circle routes
  • timing of flight