Global songbird migration

Researchers follow blackbirds and thrushes on their migration between wintering and breeding areas

Many billion songbirds migrate between continents twice every year. However, not all migratory birds set off on a journey every year. Some simply stay where they are. Such partial migration represents a transition point between migration and sedentariness. Why some birds migrate and others remain at their place of birth is a mystery, as suitable technology for following songbirds throughout the year was not previously available. Knowledge about partial migration – where only part of the population migrates while the rest remain where they are – helps us to understand why animals migrate. It provides insights into how environmental conditions during the non-breeding season lead to adjustment strategies and the extent to which global environmental changes, such as climate change or changes to land use (e.g. urbanization), generally influence migration strategies.

Songbirds provide essential ecosystem service for humans, but over the past 20 years, their numbers have decreased by 30 percent. How to protect them is not clear yet. The Icarus-Team plans to track 5000 blackbirds and thrushes in Eurasia, Russia, and the Americas in fall 2020 as a first Icarus pilot project to start understanding where these songbirds live and die, and how to protect them. They also aim to discover how flexible the birds’ decision-making on migratory flight is when they live in polar, temperate or Mediterranean regions. The researchers hope to understand how migratory birds overcome the challenges of their environment and whether they could respond quickly enough to changes, such as climate change or urbanization.

Animals: Blackbirds, thrushes

Location: Germany, Russia, North America, Tibet

Contact: Jesko Partecke, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Konstanz/Germany


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