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R Soc Open Sci. 2018 Aug 8;5(8):180876. doi: 10.1098/rsos.180876. eCollection 2018 Aug.

Increasing photoperiod stimulates the initiation of spring migratory behaviour and physiology in a facultative migrant, the pine siskin.

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School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.
Department of Biology, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA 90045, USA.
Center for Reproductive Biology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.


The transition to a migratory state involves coordinated changes in physiology and behaviour. In species with regular, predictable (obligate) migrations, increasing day length triggers the expression of a spring migratory state and androgens play an important role in stimulating its development. By contrast, we know little about the environmental cues and endocrine mechanisms that regulate migration in species with less predictable (facultative) migrations. Here, we tested whether photoperiod stimulates a migratory state in a facultative nomadic migrant, the pine siskin (Spinus pinus). We exposed wintering birds to either a naturally increasing or short-day photoperiod and measured physiological and behavioural changes indicative of a migratory state. We also examined changes in circulating hormones that may play a role in the migratory transition. Natural-day, but not short-day, birds displayed physiological preparations for migration, including increases in fat deposition, and showed increased levels of migratory restlessness. We found no evidence for a role of corticosterone in the migratory transition, but testosterone may be important. This study is the first experimental test of the role of photoperiod in regulating facultative migration and demonstrates that the predictive cue used by many obligate migrants to time spring migration is also important in a facultative migrant.


bird; facultative migration; migratory restlessness; migratory state; photoperiod; testosterone

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