Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

For Migrating Sparrows, Kids Have A Compass, But Adults Have The Map

Date:
November 10, 2007
Source:
Princeton University
Summary:
Migrating adult sparrows can find their way to their winter nesting grounds even after being thrown off course by thousands of miles, adjusting their flight plan to compensate for the displacement. However, similarly displaced juvenile birds, which have not yet made the complete round trip, are only able to orient themselves southward, indicating that songbirds' innate sense of direction must be augmented with experience if they are to find their way home.

Migrating adult sparrows can find their way to their winter nesting grounds even after being thrown off course by thousands of miles, adjusting their flight plan to compensate for the displacement.
Credit: iStockphoto/Ryan Morgan

Even bird brains can get to know an entire continent -- but it takes them a year of migration to do so, suggests a Princeton research team.

Related Articles


The scientists have shown that migrating adult sparrows can find their way to their winter nesting grounds even after being thrown off course by thousands of miles, adjusting their flight plan to compensate for the displacement. However, similarly displaced juvenile birds, which have not yet made the complete round trip, are only able to orient themselves southward, indicating that songbirds' innate sense of direction must be augmented with experience if they are to find their way home.

"This is the first experiment to show that when it comes to songbird migration, age makes a difference," said team member Martin Wikelski, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "The results indicate that the adult birds possess a navigational map that encompasses at least the continental U.S., and possibly the entire globe."

Two longstanding questions about migrant songbirds are how quickly they recover when thrown off course -- as they can be when they encounter powerful winds -- and just what navigational tools they use to do so. To address the two questions, the team decided to fit a group of white-crowned sparrows with tiny radio transmitters no heavier than a paper clip and track their movements from a small plane.

The team first brought 30 sparrows to Princeton from northern Washington state, where the birds had been in the process of migrating southward from their summer breeding grounds in Alaska. Half the birds were juveniles of about three months in age that had never migrated before, while the other half were adults that had made the round trip to their wintering site in the southwestern United States at least once.

After the birds were released, they attempted to resume their migration, but both age groups grew disoriented quickly.

"All the birds scattered at first," Wikelski said. "It was clear they were turned around for a couple of days. But while the adults eventually realized they had to head southwest, the younger birds resumed flying straight southward as though they were still in Washington."

The adults, said team member Richard Holland, recovered their bearings because they possess something the younger birds do not, which is an internal map.

"These birds need two things to know where they are and migrate effectively: a 'map' and a 'compass,'" said Holland, a postdoctoral research associate in Wikelski's lab. "What we've found is that juveniles use their compass, but the adults also use their map."

Holland said the birds do not lose the compass as they age, but somehow develop the map, eventually applying both tools to keep on track during migratory flights. Scientists already have determined that the compass is based on the sun or the magnetic field, but where the map comes from remains a mystery -- one that the team will be exploring in coming years.

"It could be the map also derives from the planet's magnetic field," Holland said. "But there are so many local magnetic anomalies in the Earth's crust that it's also possible they are navigating by sense of smell. It sounds crazy, but there's a lot of evidence that homing pigeons navigate this way, so we need to investigate that idea further."

The team's research paper appeared in the Nov. 3 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding for the team, which also included scientists from the University of Washington and the University of Copehagen in Denmark, was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

Journal article: Evidence for a navigational map stretching across the continental U.S. in a migratory songbird

By Kasper Thorup, Isabelle-A. Bisson, Melissa S. Bowlin, Richard A. Holland, John C. Wingfield, Marilyn Ramenofsky and Martin Wikelski


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Princeton University. "For Migrating Sparrows, Kids Have A Compass, But Adults Have The Map." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071105180008.htm>.
Princeton University. (2007, November 10). For Migrating Sparrows, Kids Have A Compass, But Adults Have The Map. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071105180008.htm
Princeton University. "For Migrating Sparrows, Kids Have A Compass, But Adults Have The Map." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071105180008.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Buzz60 (Nov. 24, 2014) A Swedish Adventure racing team travels to try and win a world title, but comes home with something way better: a stray dog that joined the team for much of the grueling 430-mile race. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying Black Seadevil Fish Captured on First-of-Its Kind Video

Terrifying Black Seadevil Fish Captured on First-of-Its Kind Video

Buzz60 (Nov. 24, 2014) An aquarium captures a first-of-its kind video of a notoriously camera-shy fish that’s also not so camera-friendly. Jen Markham explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Red Panda Cubs Explore the Bratislava Zoo

Red Panda Cubs Explore the Bratislava Zoo

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) Four-month old Red Panda twins Pim and Pam still rely on their mother for breast milk at the Bratislava Zoo in Slovakia, but the precocious cubs have begun to branch out to solid foods, as well. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins