Orientation of Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) at Sunset


Fachbereich Biologie der Universität, Zoologie, Siesmayerstraße 70, D-6000 Frankfurt a. M.

Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


To find out the relative importance of the geomagnetic and solar cues for the orientation at the time of sunset, dunnocks were tested outdoors during the spring migration periods of 1982 and 1983. Experimental magnetic fields were produced by Helmholtz coils. In the various magnetic conditions, the following results were obtained:

  • 1In the local geomagnetic field, the dunnocks oriented in a seasonally appropriate northerly direction.
  • 2In a magnetic field the north of which was shifted 120° clock-wise to ESE, the birds showed a corresponding shift in their orientation.
  • 3In a vertical magnetic field without meaningful directional information, birds previously tested in either the local geomagnetic field or the shifted magnetic field now displayed axially bimodal orientation, with the axes of the two groups differing.

These findings indicate that for migratory dunnocks, the magnetic field plays a dominant role in determining their orientation at the time of sunset, and that magnetic information may affect the dunnocks' response to other directional, presumably solar cues as well.