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J Exp Biol. 2001 Nov;204(Pt 22):3855-65.

Migrating songbirds tested in computer-controlled Emlen funnels use stellar cues for a time-independent compass.

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Centre for Sound Communication, Institute of Biology, Odense University, Campusvej 55, DK 5230 Odense M, Denmark.


This paper investigates how young pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, and blackcaps, Sylvia atricapilla, interpret and use celestial cues. In order to record these data, we developed a computer-controlled version of the Emlen funnel, which enabled us to make detailed temporal analyses. First, we showed that the birds use a star compass. Then, we tested the birds under a stationary planetarium sky, which simulated the star pattern of the local sky at 02:35 h for 11 consecutive hours of the night, and compared the birds' directional choices as a function of time with the predictions from five alternative stellar orientation hypotheses. The results supported the hypothesis suggesting that birds use a time-independent star compass based on learned geometrical star configurations to pinpoint the rotational point of the starry sky (north). In contrast, neither hypotheses suggesting that birds use the stars for establishing their global position and then perform true star navigation nor those suggesting the use of a time-compensated star compass were supported.

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