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. 2014 Jan 8;9(1):e83515.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083515. eCollection 2014.

Narrow-front Loop Migration in a Population of the Common Cuckoo Cuculus Canorus, as Revealed by Satellite Telemetry

Free PMC article

Narrow-front Loop Migration in a Population of the Common Cuckoo Cuculus Canorus, as Revealed by Satellite Telemetry

Mikkel Willemoes et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


Narrow migration corridors known in diurnal, social migrants such as raptors, storks and geese are thought to be caused by topographical leading line effects in combination with learning detailed routes across generations. Here, we document narrow-front migration in a nocturnal, solitary migrant, the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus, using satellite telemetry. We tracked the migration of adult cuckoos from the breeding grounds in southern Scandinavia (n = 8), to wintering sites in south-western Central Africa (n = 6) and back to the breeding grounds (n = 3). Migration patterns were very complex; in addition to the breeding and wintering sites, six different stopover sites were identified during the 16,000 km annual route that formed a large-scale clockwise loop. Despite this complexity, individuals showed surprisingly similar migration patterns, with very little variation between routes. We compared observed tracks with simulated routes based on vector orientation (with and without effects of barriers on orientation and survival). Observed distances between routes were often significantly smaller than expected if the routes were established on the basis of an innate vector orientation programme. Average distance between individuals in eastern Sahel after having migrated more than 5,000 km for example, was merely 164 km. This implies that more sophisticated inherent guiding mechanisms, possibly involving elements of intermediate goal area navigation or more elaborate external cues, are necessary to explain the complex narrow-front migration pattern observed for the cuckoos in this study.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have the following interests. Paul Howey is the director of Microwave Telemetry, the company that makes the satellite tags used for tracking the birds. There are no patents, products in development or marketed products to declare. This does not alter the authors' adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials, as detailed online in the guide for authors.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Staging areas of eight satellite-tracked adult common cuckoos with vector directions between stopovers indicated by inserted orientation diagrams.
Lines are connecting staging sites and do not necessarily represent the paths followed (see ESM Fig. S1). Mercator projection.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Maps showing examples of 15 random migration routes simulated by vector summation in six different ways.
A: simulations using the LONG model, B: SHORT, C: SHORT_Mort, D: SHORT_Dir_Change, E: LONG_Juv_Mort, F: SHORT_Juv_Mort (see Table 1). Blue parts of maps indicate water bodies considered a barrier (>200 km from the coast) and red parts indicate mountain barriers (more than 1700 m above sea level). Mercator projection.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Distances among individual common cuckoos on tracked (solid line) and simulated stopovers during the whole annual migration (see Table 1 for explanation of the types of simulations).
In the tracked birds, the values represent average distance from the birds to the average position at that stopover. For the simulated birds, the values are averages of 10,000 bootstraps of average distance from the birds to the average position in that specific stopover. In NC Europe and SE Europe no simulations were significantly different from the tracked birds. In E Sahel, NWC Africa, S Europe and Breeding all simulations were significantly more scattered than the tracked birds. In SWC Africa and W Africa only LONG was significantly more scattered than the tracked individuals (statistical comparisons based on bootstraps in Table S2).

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Grant support

The work was supported by the Danish National Research Foundation Swedish Research Council The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.