Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 153, Issue 4, pp 1261–1265 | Cite as

Orientation of vagrant birds on the Faroe Islands in the Atlantic Ocean

  • Kasper ThorupEmail author
  • Troels Eske Ortvad
  • Richard A. Holland
  • Jørgen Rabøl
  • Mikkel Willemoes Kristensen
  • Martin Wikelski
Short Note


Migratory birds are frequently found far outside their normal range but the phenomenon is poorly understood. We used radio telemetry to track individual migratory flights of several species of songbirds on the Faroe Islands, far west of their normal migration route. Birds with expected easterly and south-easterly migration direction departed westwards out over the Atlantic Ocean, indicating that these birds are actively flying in the “wrong” direction and that their occurrence is not caused by wind drift. This is in contrast to the apparently normal south-westerly to easterly departure directions in birds expected to migrate south or southwest.


Vagrancy Migration Orientation and navigation Songbirds 


Orientierung bei verdrifteten Vögeln auf den Faröer Inseln im Atlantik

Zugvögel sind regelmäßig außerhalb ihres normalen Verbreitungsgebiets zu finden, aber dieses Phänomen ist wenig untersucht. Wir verwendeten Radiotelemetrie, um individuelle Flüge bei verschiedenen Singvogelarten auf den Faröer Inseln zu untersuchen, weit westlich der normalen Zugroute. Vögel mit erwartungsgemäß östlicher und süd-östlicher Zugrichtung flogen westwärts hinaus auf den Atlantik, was darauf hindeutet, dass diese Vögel aktiv in die „falsche“Richtung flogen und nicht vom Wind verdriftet wurden. Dies steht im Kontrast zu der anscheinend normalen süd-westlichen bis östlichen Abflugrichtung bei Vögeln, von denen man annimmt, dass sie nach Süden oder Süd-Westen ziehen.



We are grateful to Jens-Kjeld Jensen for catching birds on Nolsoy, and to Dorete Bloch, Aksal Poulsen and several local Faroese for much help during field work on the Faroe Islands. We thank Bill and Jim Cochran for technical help. K.T. was supported by a grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research. This study was carried out in strict accordance with Guidelines to the use of wild birds in research of the Ornithological Council (Fair et al. 2010). Animal work was approved by the Faroese Food and Environmental Agency ( 2009-00101-43) and the Danish Forest and Nature Agency by permission to the Copenhagen Bird Ringing Centre ( SN 302–009).

Supplementary material

10336_2012_883_MOESM1_ESM.doc (360 kb)
Details of the experiments, experimental birds and weather conditions. (DOC 360 kb)


  1. Alerstam T (1990) Bird migration. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Alerstam T (1991) Ecological causes and consequences of bird orientation. In: Berthold P (ed) Orientation in birds. Birkhäuser, BaselGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker K (1977) Westward vagrancy of Siberian passerines in autumn 1975. Bird Study 24:232–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Batschelet E (1981) Circular statistics in biology. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Bearhop S, Fiedler W, Furness RW, Votier SC, Waldron S, Newton J, Bowen GJ, Berthold P, Farnsworth K (2005) Assortative mating as a mechanism for rapid evolution of a migratory divide. Science 310:502–504PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berthold P, Helbig AJ, Mohr G, Querner U (1992) Rapid microevolution of migratory behaviour in a wild bird species. Nature 360:668–670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. DeSante DF (1983) Annual variability in the abundance on migrant land birds on southeast Farallon Island, California, USA. Auk 100:826–852Google Scholar
  8. Diamond JM (1982) Mirror-image navigational errors in migrating birds. Nature 295:277–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fair J, Paul E, Jones J (eds) (2010) Guidelines to the use of wild birds in research. Ornithological Council, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  10. Fisher NI (1995) Statistical analysis of circular data. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Gilroy JJ, Lees AC (2003) Vagrancy theories: are autumn vagrants really reverse migrants? Br Birds 96:427–438Google Scholar
  12. Lack D (1962) Radar evidence on migratory orientation. Br Birds 55:139–158Google Scholar
  13. Pfeifer R, Stadler J, Brandl R (2007) Birds from the Far East in Central Europe: a test of the reverse migration hypothesis. J Ornithol 148:379–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Rabøl J (1969) Reversed migration as the cause of westward vagrancy by four Phylloscopus warblers. Br Birds 62:89–92Google Scholar
  15. Rabøl J (1976) The orientation of Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus in Europe. Dansk Orn Foren Tidsskr 70:6–16Google Scholar
  16. Rabøl J (1985) The orientation of vagrant passerines on the Faeroe Islands, September 1984. Dansk Orn Foren Tidsskr 79:133–140Google Scholar
  17. Richardson WJ (1982) Northeastward reverse migration of birds over Nova Scotia, Canada, in autumn. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 10:193–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Thorup K (1998) Vagrancy of Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus and Pallas’s Warbler Ph. proregulus in north-west Europe: misorientation on great circles? Ring Migr 19:7–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Thorup K (2004) Reverse migration as a cause of vagrancy. Bird Study 51:228–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Thorup K, Ortvad TE, Rabøl J, Holland RA, Tøttrup AP, Wikelski M (2011) Juvenile songbirds compensate for displacement to oceanic islands during autumn migration. PLoS ONE 6:e17903PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Thorup K, Rabøl J (2001) The orientation system and migration pattern of long-distance migrants: conflict between model predictions and observed patterns. J Avian Biol 32:111–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wikelski M, Kays R, Kasdin J, Thorup K, Smith JA, Cochran WW, Swenson GW Jr (2007) Going wild: what a global small-animal tracking system could do for experimental biologists. J Exp Biol 210:181–186PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kasper Thorup
    • 1
    Email author
  • Troels Eske Ortvad
    • 1
  • Richard A. Holland
    • 2
  • Jørgen Rabøl
    • 1
  • Mikkel Willemoes Kristensen
    • 1
  • Martin Wikelski
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Natural History Museum of DenmarkUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK
  3. 3.Department for Migration and Immuno-EcologyMax Planck Institute for OrnithologyRadolfzellGermany
  4. 4.Department of BiologyKonstanz UniversityConstanceGermany

Personalised recommendations