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Route simulations, compass mechanisms and long-distance migration flights in birds

  • Susanne Åkesson
  • Giuseppe Bianco
Publishing year: 2017-07
Language: English
Pages: 475-490
Publication/Series: Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Volume: 203
Issue: 6-7
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

Bird migration has fascinated humans for centuries and routes crossing the globe are now starting to be revealed by advanced tracking technology. A central question is what compass mechanism, celestial or geomagnetic, is activated during these long flights. Different approaches based on the geometry of flight routes across the globe and route simulations based on predictions from compass mechanisms with or without including the effect of winds have been used to try to answer this question with varying results. A major focus has been use of orthodromic (great circle) and loxodromic (rhumbline) routes using celestial information, while geomagnetic information has been proposed for both a magnetic loxodromic route and a magnetoclinic route. Here, we review previous results and evaluate if one or several alternative compass mechanisms can explain migration routes in birds. We found that most cases could be explained by magnetoclinic routes (up to 73% of the cases), while the sun compass could explain only 50%. Both magnetic and geographic loxodromes could explain <25% of the routes. The magnetoclinic route functioned across latitudes (1°S–74°N), while the sun compass only worked in the high Arctic (61–69°N). We discuss the results with respect to orientation challenges and availability of orientation cues.


  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Zoology
  • Geographic loxodrome
  • Magnetc loxodrome
  • Magnetoclinic route
  • Route simulations
  • Sun compass route


  • ISSN: 0340-7594
Susanne Åkesson
E-mail: susanne [dot] akesson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

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