Year-round tracking of small trans-Saharan migrants using light-level geolocators
Since 1899 ringing (or banding) remained the most important source of information about migration routes, stopover sites and wintering grounds for birds that are too small to carry satellite-based tracking systems. Despite the large quantity of migrating birds ringed in their breeding areas in Europe, the number of ring recoveries from sub-Saharan Africa is very low and therefore the whereabouts of most small bird species outside the breeding season remain a mystery. With new miniaturized light-level geolocators it is now possible to look beyond the limits of ring recovery data. Here we show for the first time year round tracks of a near passerine trans-Saharan migrant, the European Hoopoe (Upupa epops epops). Three birds wintered in the Sahel zone of Western Africa where they remained stationary for most of the time. One bird chose a south-easterly route following the Italian peninsula. Birds from the same breeding population used different migration routes and wintering sites, suggesting a low level of migratory connectivity between breeding and wintering areas. Our tracking of a near passerine bird, the European Hoopoe, with light-level geolocators opens a new chapter in the research of Palaearctic-African bird migration as this new tool revolutionizes our ability to discover migration routes, stopover sites and wintering grounds of small birds.
Authors: Bachler, Erich, Hahn, Steffen, Schaub, Michael, Arlettaz, Raphael, Jenni, Lukas, Fox, James W., Afanasyev, Vsevolod