The influence of fat stores on magnetic orientation in day-migrating Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs

Johan Bäckman, Jan Pettersson, Roland Sandberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Earlier experimental studies have demonstrated the ability of day-migrating birds to perform migration under overcast skies, thereby indicating use of cues other than solar. The orientation behaviour of the chaffinch, a diurnal migrant, was investigated in orientation cage experiments during the autumn migration period. The aim of our experiments was to examine the relationship between different orientation cues and the influence of body condition on directional choices. We obtained the following results: 1. Chaffinches displayed a bimodal distribution of headings along a SW-NE axis when tested in the local geomagnetic field (controls); 2. When the geomagnetic field was experimentally deflected 90° counterclockwise, the chaffinches responded by changing their preferred axial orientation to SE-NW; and 3. The predictive power of stored fat reserves became evident when both the control and experimental samples were subdivided into fat and lean individuals. The majority of fat controls orientated towards a seasonally appropriate SW direction, whereas lean controls chose mean directions towards the NE. Experimentals followed the same pattern, but with the expected deflection, i.e. fat birds selected SE headings and lean individuals chose a NW mean direction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-256
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1997

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biological Sciences


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