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It's a bird, not a plane: York U study finds migrating songbirds depart on time
Date:7/25/2012

TORONTO, July 25, 2012 A new study by York University researchers finds that songbirds follow a strict annual schedule when migrating to their breeding grounds with some birds departing on precisely the same date each year.

The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, is the first to track the migration routes and timing of individual songbirds over multiple years. Researchers outfitted wood thrushes with tiny geolocator "backpacks," recording data on their movements.

Spring departure dates of birds heading from the tropics to North American breeding grounds were surprisingly consistent, with a mean difference of only three days from year to year, the study reports. Fall migration, however, was far less predictable. Males on average flew faster than females, and first-timers lagged behind those with more than one journey under their wings.

The geolocators, which are smaller than a dime, are mounted on birds' backs with thin straps looped around their legs. The devices measure light, allowing researchers to estimate latitude and longitude by recording sunrise and sunset times.

"It's quite surprising that the schedules of these birds are so consistent across the entire route, with some of them departing the tropics and arriving at breeding sites in North America on the same day in different years," says study author Kevin Fraser, a postdoctoral Fellow in York's Department of Biology, Faculty of Science & Engineering. "Much like airplanes, there are many factors that can influence birds' flight schedules, such as weather at departure and expected conditions at the other end of the journey. Amazingly, these small songbirds are highly consistent in their timing between years."

Interestingly, while their departure times are precise, songbirds' migratory routes can vary widely. "Migratory routes sometimes differed by several hundred kilometres between years, which may reflect a fine-tuning of migration in respo
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Contact: Melissa Hughes
mehughes@yorku.ca
416-736-2100 x22315
York University
Source:Eurekalert  

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