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Magnetic storms disrupt nocturnal migratory activity in songbirds

  • Giuseppe Bianco
  • Mihaela Ilieva
  • Susanne Åkesson
Publishing year: 2019-03-29
Language: English
Publication/Series: Biology letters
Volume: 15
Issue: 3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

Birds possess a magnetic sense and rely on the Earth's magnetic field for orientation during migration. However, the geomagnetic field can be altered by solar activity at relative unpredictable intervals. How birds cope with the temporal geomagnetic variations caused by solar storms during migration is still unclear. We addressed this question by reproducing the effect of a solar storm on the geomagnetic field and monitoring the activity of three songbird species during autumn migration. We found that only the European robin reduced nocturnal migratory restlessness in response to simulated solar storms. At the same time, robins increased activity during early morning. We suggest that robins reduced activity at night when the perception of magnetic information would be strongly disrupted by temporal variations of the magnetic field, to extend their migration during daytime when several visual cues become available for orientation. The other two species, chiffchaff and dunnock, showing low or no nocturnal migratory activity, did not respond to the solar storm by changing activity.


  • Evolutionary Biology
  • animal navigation
  • bird migration
  • compass orientation
  • geomagnetic field
  • magnetic compass
  • migratory restlessness


  • ISSN: 1744-9561
Susanne Åkesson
E-mail: susanne [dot] akesson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

+46 46 222 37 05

+46 70 245 04 23


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Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

PhD students, main supervisor

Himma Bakam

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