Migration: Orientation and Navigation


Directional or compass orientation does not require a geographically fixed reference whereas goal orientation or true navigation relies on knowledge of the previously experienced goal and the determination of the exact position relative to the goal.

Keywords: compass direction; navigation; homing; biological compasses

Figure 1.

Garden warblers kept in circular orientation cages in Germany changed their preferred directions during outward migration in autumn in correspondence to the natural situation (centre panel). Tested in August to September they headed south‐west while in October to December they changed their preferred direction towards south‐east. If birds were kept until the next spring and tested again during spring migratory restlessness, they headed northward (from Bairlein 1996, and sources therein).

Figure 2.

Starlings breeding in the Baltic area (A) migrate across northern Germany and Holland (B) to wintering areas in northern France and southern England (C). First‐year and adult starlings were caught on their autumn move through Holland (B) and displaced by aeroplane to Switzerland where they were released after ringing (B′). The young birds (juv) on their first migration continued to travel in their original westerly direction reaching wintering areas in Spain (C′). In contrast, the adult birds (ad) moved towards their former familiar winter place in north‐western Europe. Thus, the young birds followed a given compass direction and did not take into account the displacement, whereas the adult birds were able to compensate for displacement. They conducted goal orientation towards their familiar winter quarters (from Bairlein 1996, and sources therein).

Figure 3.

Interactions between celestial and magnetic cues in the development of migratory orientation of songbirds. From Wiltschko et al., 1998.


Further Reading

Bairlein F (1996) Ökologie der Vögel. Stuttgart: G. Fischer.

Baker RR (1978) The Evolutionary Ecology of Animal Migration. New York: Holmes & Meier.

Berthold P (1996) Control of Bird Migration. London: Chapman & Hall.

Dingle H (1996) Migration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Drake VA and Gatehouse AG (1995) Insect Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gauthreaux SA (1980) Animal Migration, Orientation, and Navigation. New York: Academic Press.

Gwinner E (1990) Bird Migration. Physiology and Ecophysiology. Heidelberg: Springer‐Verlag.

McCleave JD, Arnold GP, Dodson JJ and Neill WH (1984) Mechanisms of Migration in Fishes. New York: Plenum Press.

Papi F (1992) Animal Homing. London: Chapman & Hall.

Schmidt‐Koenig K (1975) Migration and Homing in Animals. Berlin: Springer‐Verlag.

Wiltschko R and Wiltschko W (1995) Magnetic Orientation in Animals. Berlin: Springer‐Verlag.

Wiltschko W, Weindler P and Wiltschko R (1998) Interaction of magnetic and celestial cues in the migratory orientation of passerines. Journal of Avian Biology 29: 606–617.

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Bairlein, Franz(Apr 2001) Migration: Orientation and Navigation. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003209]