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Contradictory results on the role of polarized light in compass calibration in migratory songbirds

Wiltschko, Roswitha, Munro, Ursula, Ford, Hugh, Wiltschko, Wolfgang
Journal für Ornithologie 2008 v.149 no.4 pp. 607-614
calibration, geophysics, magnetic fields, migratory behavior, polarized light, songbirds
Experiments with migrating birds on the interaction between magnetic and celestial cues have produced heterogeneous results. A recent study claimed that the magnetic compass in passerine migrants is calibrated by the pattern of polarized light at sunset and sunrise and that the area just above the horizon is crucial for this calibration. To test the latter hypothesis, we performed a similar experiment with Australian Silvereyes. It produced contrary results, however, the birds, in spite of observing the natural polarization pattern at sunrise and sunset down to the horizon in an altered magnetic field, continued in their normal southerly magnetic direction when subsequently tested in the local geomagnetic field--the conflict between magnetic and polarized light cues had not caused them to recalibrate their magnetic compass. This contradicts the assumption that skylight polarization patterns generally serve as a primary calibration reference for migratory songbirds.