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Avian orientation at steep angles of inclination: experiments with migratory white-crowned sparrows at the magnetic North Pole

  • Susanne Åkesson
  • Jens Morin
  • Rachel Muheim
  • Ulf Ottosson
Publishing year: 2001
Language: English
Pages: 1907-1913
Publication/Series: Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Volume: 268
Issue: 1479
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

The Earths magnetic field and celestial cues provide animals with compass information during migration.Inherited magnetic compass courses are selected based on the angle of inclination, making itdifficult to orient in the near vertical fields found at high geomagnetic latitudes. Orientation cage experimentswere performed at different sites in high Arctic Canada with adult and young white-crownedsparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii) in order to investigate birds ability to use the Earths magneticfield and celestial cues for orientation in naturally very steep magnetic fields at and close to the magneticNorth Pole. Experiments were performed during the natural period of migration at night in the localgeomagnetic field under natural clear skies and under simulated total overcast conditions. The experimentalbirds failed to select a meaningful magnetic compass course under overcast conditions at themagnetic North Pole, but could do so in geomagnetic fields deviating less than 38 from the vertical.Migratory orientation was successful at all sites when celestial cues were available.


  • Zoology
  • Biological Sciences


  • ISSN: 1471-2954
Susanne Åkesson
E-mail: susanne [dot] akesson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

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