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Tracking migration routes and the annual cycle of a trans-Sahara songbird migrant

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Movement ecology studies have highlighted the importance of individual-based research. As tracking devices have not been applicable for identifying year-around movements of small birds until recently, migration routes of such species relied on visual observations and ring recoveries. Within the Palaearctic–African migration system, loop migration seems to be the overall migration pattern. The interindividual variations within species-specific migration routes are, however, unknown. Here, we track the individual migration routes and annual cycles of male Northern Wheatears Oenanthe oenanthe, a trans-Sahara songbird migrant from a German breeding population with light-level geolocators. Two migrated most likely via Spain towards western Africa but returned via Corsica/Sardinia, while two others seemed to migrate via Sardinia and Corsica in autumn and via Spain and France in spring (loop migration). The fifth took presumably the same route via France and the Balearics in both seasons. All birds wintered in the Sahel zone of western Africa. Overall migration distances for autumn and spring were similar (about 4,100 km), whereas the overall migratory speed was generally higher in spring (126 km day−1) than in autumn (88 km day−1). Birds spent about 130 days at the breeding area and 147 days at the wintering grounds.

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This work was supported financially by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (BA 816/15-4). We thank Ommo Hüppop and Freimut Schramm for technical support and Lesley Szosteck for improving the English. Four anonymous reviewers had greatly improved former versions of the manuscript.

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Northern Wheatears were caught, ringed and tagged under license of the Ministry for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Areas, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany.

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Correspondence to Heiko Schmaljohann.

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Communicated by W. Wiltschko

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Schmaljohann, H., Buchmann, M., Fox, J.W. et al. Tracking migration routes and the annual cycle of a trans-Sahara songbird migrant. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66, 915–922 (2012).

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