Route simulations, compass mechanisms and long-distance migration flights in birds
Migratory birds are known to use the Earth's magnetic field as an orientation cue on their tremendous journeys between their breeding and overwintering grounds. The magnetic compass of migratory birds relies on the magnetic field's inclination, i.e. the angle between the magnetic field lines and the Earth's surface. As a consequence, vertical or horizontal field lines corresponding to 0 or 90 deg inclination should offer no utilizable information on where to find North or South. So far, very little is known about how small the deviations from horizontal or vertical inclination are that migratory birds can detect and use as a reference for their magnetic compass. Here, we asked: what is the steepest inclination angle at which a migratory bird, the Eurasian blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), can still perform magnetic compass orientation in Emlen funnels? Our results show that blackcaps are able to orient in an Earth's strength magnetic field with inclination angles of 67 and 85 deg, but fail to orient in a field with 88 deg inclination. This suggests that the steepest inclination angle enabling magnetic compass orientation in migratory blackcaps tested in Emlen funnels lies between 85 and 88 deg.