Under cover of darkness: nocturnal life of diurnal birds

Mukhin, A., Grinkevich, V. and Helm, B. (2009) Under cover of darkness: nocturnal life of diurnal birds. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 24(3), pp. 225-231. (doi: 10.1177/0748730409335349)

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Songbirds are generally considered diurnal, although many species show periodic nocturnal activity during migration seasons. From a breeding-range perspective, such migratory species appear to be diurnal because they are observed to nest and feed their young during the day. But are they really exclusively diurnal? The authors tested how a passerine long-distance migrant, the Eurasian reed warbler, schedules movements during the breeding period by tracking birds in 2 experimental situations: 1) Birds experienced simulated nest loss and were monitored during their search for alternative locations, and 2) birds were translocated to reed beds at distances from 2 to 21 km and tracked during homing. The simulated unpredictable events disrupted normal breeding, forced birds to move over relatively long distances, and triggered rapid change in diel activity. In all but 1 case, birds resorted to nocturnality to find their way home and to search for new places to breed. Nocturnality during the breeding season indicates that songbird schedules are far more flexible than previously assumed. The reasons for nocturnal movements are poorly understood. Among the presumed advantages, the reduced predation pressure at night stands out because it is advantageous for movements on local as well as global scales. Predation may be particularly relevant for inhabitants of fragmented habitats, which encounter unfavorable conditions when crossing gaps in their preferred habitat. Therefore, similar selection pressures around the year may have favored the evolution of a general circadian mechanism for switches to nocturnality. Furthermore, the novel finding of homing and dispersal at night may give leads toward understanding the still enigmatic navigational abilities of songbirds.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Helm, Dr Barbara
Authors: Mukhin, A., Grinkevich, V., and Helm, B.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Journal of Biological Rhythms

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