Biology Letters
Restricted accessAnimal behaviour

Cross-hemisphere migration of a 25 g songbird

Franz Bairlein

Franz Bairlein

Institute of Avian Research ‘Vogelwarte Helgoland’, An der Vogelwarte 21, Wilhelmshaven 26386, Germany

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D. Ryan Norris

D. Ryan Norris

Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1

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,
Rolf Nagel

Rolf Nagel

Institute of Avian Research ‘Vogelwarte Helgoland’, An der Vogelwarte 21, Wilhelmshaven 26386, Germany

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,
Marc Bulte

Marc Bulte

Institute of Avian Research ‘Vogelwarte Helgoland’, An der Vogelwarte 21, Wilhelmshaven 26386, Germany

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,
Christian C. Voigt

Christian C. Voigt

Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Alfred-Kowalke-Strasse 17, Berlin, 10315 Germany

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James W. Fox

James W. Fox

British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

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,
David J. T. Hussell

David J. T. Hussell

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9J 7BS

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and
Heiko Schmaljohann

Heiko Schmaljohann

Institute of Avian Research ‘Vogelwarte Helgoland’, An der Vogelwarte 21, Wilhelmshaven 26386, Germany

[email protected]

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Published:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2011.1223

    The northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) is a small (approx. 25 g), insectivorous migrant with one of the largest ranges of any songbird in the world, breeding from the eastern Canadian Arctic across Greenland, Eurasia and into Alaska (AK). However, there is no evidence that breeding populations in the New World have established overwintering sites in the Western Hemisphere. Using light-level geolocators, we demonstrate that individuals from these New World regions overwinter in northern sub-Sahara Africa, with Alaskan birds travelling approximately 14 500 km each way and an eastern Canadian Arctic bird crossing a wide stretch of the North Atlantic (approx. 3500 km). These remarkable journeys, particularly for a bird of this size, last between one to three months depending on breeding location and season (autumn/spring) and result in mean overall migration speeds of up to 290 km d−1. Stable-hydrogen isotope analysis of winter-grown feathers sampled from breeding birds generally support the notion that Alaskan birds overwinter primarily in eastern Africa and eastern Canadian Arctic birds overwinter mainly in western Africa. Our results provide the first evidence of a migratory songbird capable of linking African ecosystems of the Old World with Arctic regions of the New World.

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