Nav: Home

The moon determines when migratory birds head south

October 16, 2019

A new study from Lund University in Sweden shows that the presence or absence of moonlight has a considerable bearing on when migratory birds take flight in the autumn.

Together with colleagues at the Department of Biology at Lund University, Gabriel Norevik studied European nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) and how the lunar cycle and moonlight affects the departure time when the birds start their three-month-long migrationflight to areas south of the Sahara.

Using miniature data loggers, the researchers charted the activity of 39 European nightjars over a one-year period. The results show that the birds are more than twice as active in their hunt for insects during moonlit nights compared with when it is dark. The study also shows that the birds begin their autumn migration south about ten days after the full moon, and that the individuals synchronise the migration and fly off more or less at the same time.

"It surprised us that the lunar cycle and the time the birds spent on hunting insects co-vary so well. This in turn affects their migration pattern in such a way that they synchronise their flight so that practically all of them fly off at the same time ten days after the full moon", says Gabriel Norevik.

European nightjars use their sight when they hunt at night. In the moonlight they find it easier to catch flying insects and replenish their energy reserves.

The birds migratefly in three stages from Sweden and northern Europe to wintering sites south of the Sahara. Each stage follows the same pattern: when the moon provides a lot of light it more than doubles the time that the birds hunt insects, and the next stage of the migration starts ten days after the full moon.

The study of European nightjars is the first of its type to describe how a large-scale pattern such as the lunar cycle can synchronise large groups of animals to migrate at the same time. The researchers do not exclude the notion that animals other than European nightjars also adapt to the lunar cycle when they migrate.

"We will go on to examine that and what effects this type of synchronised migration has on the birds themselves and their surroundings", says Gabriel Norevik.
-end-


Lund University

Related Migratory Birds Articles:

Migratory secrets of recovering whale species
Scientists have discovered where a whale species that feeds around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia breeds during the winter months.
6000-8000 km round trip flight of migratory wading birds tracked
Plovers winter and migrate utilizing rice paddy fields along their annual route.
Not-so-dirty birds? Not enough evidence to link wild birds to food-borne illness
Despite the perception that wild birds in farm fields can cause food-borne illness, a WSU study has found little evidence linking birds to E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.
Migratory birds shrinking as climate warms, new analysis of four-decade record shows
North American migratory birds have been getting smaller over the past four decades, and their wings have gotten a bit longer.
Migratory birds are worse off in West Africa
Migratory sandpipers breeding in Greenland who choose to spend the winter in West Africa instead of elsewhere along the East Atlantic coast have a lower chance of survival, are more likely to skip their first breeding season and arrive later at their breeding grounds.
Evolution is resetting the annual clock in migratory birds
The timing of spring migration is vital for birds. Returning too late comes at a cost.
The moon determines when migratory birds head south
A new study from Lund University in Sweden shows that the presence or absence of moonlight has a considerable bearing on when migratory birds take flight in the autumn.
These migratory birds will risk their lives for a good nap
As reported in the journal Current Biology on Aug. 19, migrating birds that are low on fat reserves will tuck their heads under their feathers for a deep snooze.
Study finds native bighorn sheep herds retain migratory diversity
A study led by Blake Lowrey found notable distinctions in the migrations of different types of bighorn sheep herds.
Migratory hoverflies 'key' as many insects decline
Migratory hoverflies are 'key' to pollination and controlling crop pests amid the decline of many other insect species, new research shows.
More Migratory Birds News and Migratory Birds Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.