Date: November 20, 2015
Source: Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen
The cuckoo is not only capable of finding its way from unknown locations; it does this through a highly complex individual decision making process. Such skills have never before been documented in migratory birds. A new study shows that navigation in migratory birds is even more complex than previously assumed. The Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen led the study with the use of miniature satellite tracking technology.
In an experiment, 11 adult cuckoos were relocated from Denmark to Spain just before their winter migration to Africa was about to begin. When the birds were released more than 1,000 km away from their well-known migration route, they navigated towards the different stopover areas used along their normal route.
"The release site was completely unknown to the cuckoos, yet they had no trouble finding their way back to their normal migratory route. Interestingly though, they aimed for different targets on the route, which we do not consider random. This individual and flexible choice in navigation indicates an ability to assess advantages and disadvantages of different routes, probably based on their health, age, experience or even personality traits. They evaluate their own condition and adjust their reaction to it, displaying a complicated behavior which we were able to document for the first time in migratory birds," says postdoc Mikkel Willemoes from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.
Previously, in 2014, the Center also led a study mapping the complete cuckoo migration route from Denmark to Africa. Here they discovered that during autumn the birds make stopovers in different areas across Europe and Africa. It was these areas the displaced cuckoos aimed for: Of the 11 birds, one flew to Poland, one to the Balkans, one to Chad and three of them flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo. From there, they followed their familiar migration route. The last five birds lost their transmitting signal.