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Migration Along Orthodromic Sun Compass Routes by Arctic Birds

  • Thomas Alerstam
  • Gudmundur A. Gudmundsson
  • Martin Green
  • Anders Hedenström
Publishing year: 2001
Language: English
Pages: 300-303
Publication/Series: Science
Volume: 291
Issue: 5502
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Abstract english

Flight directions of birds migrating at high geographic and magnetic latitudes can be used to test bird orientation by celestial or geomagnetic compass systems under polar conditions. Migration patterns of arctic shorebirds, revealed by tracking radar studies during an icebreaker expedition along the Northwest Passage in 1999, support predicted sun compass trajectories but cannot be reconciled with orientation along either geographic or magnetic loxodromes (rhumb lines). Sun compass routes are similar to orthodromes (great circle routes) at high latitudes, showing changing geographic courses as the birds traverse longitudes and their internal clock gets out of phase with local time. These routes bring the shorebirds from high arctic Canada to the east coast of North America, from which they make transoceanic flights to South America. The observations are also consistent with a migration link between Siberia and the Beaufort Sea region by way of sun compass routes across the Arctic Ocean.


  • Biological Sciences
  • Ecology


  • ISSN: 1095-9203
Thomas Alerstam
E-mail: thomas [dot] alerstam [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Professor emeritus

Evolutionary ecology

+46 46 222 37 85


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