Ontogeny of the star compass in birds: pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) can establish the star compass in spring.

Affiliation

Zolotareva A(1), Utvenko G(2), Romanova N(2), Pakhomov A(3), Chernetsov N(3)(4).
Author information:
(1)Biological Station Rybachy, Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Rybachy 238535, Kaliningrad Region, Russia [Email]
(2)Moscow State Pedagogical University, 1/1 M. Pirogovskaya St., Moscow 119991, Russia.
(3)Biological Station Rybachy, Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Rybachy 238535, Kaliningrad Region, Russia.
(4)Department of Vertebrate Zoology, St Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya Emb. 7/9, St Petersburg 199034, Russia.

Abstract

The star compass of birds, like the sun compass, is not innate. To possess either of them, birds have to observe the rotating sky and determine its centre of rotation (in the case of the star compass) or the sun's movement (for the sun compass). Young birds are believed to learn how to use the star compass before their first migration, even though the evidence of this is lacking. Here, we tested whether hand-raised Pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) that had not established the star compass prior to their first autumn migration can gain it later in their ontogeny, in spring. We also attempted to examine whether the observation of diurnal celestial cues (the sun and polarized light) prior to autumn migration would affect the process of star compass learning in spring. When tested in the vertical magnetic field under the natural starry sky, the group of birds that observed the stars in spring as the first celestial cues were able to choose the migratory direction. In contrast, the birds that had never seen the stars were not able to use the nightly celestial cues in the vertical magnetic field. However, birds that had seen the daytime celestial cues till autumn and the stars at spring were disoriented, although this might be due to the small sample size. Our data suggest the possibility that the star compass may be learned in spring and emphasize the necessity for further research into the interaction of celestial compasses.