Can Experience Alter the Avian Annual Cycle? Results of Migration Experiments with Indigo Buntings


Department of Biology, Indiana University, Jordan Hall 138, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, U.S.A.


Field experiments were conducted during 2 years testing whether premature release on their familiar, perennial breeding territories would cause indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea) to delete spring migration from their annual cycle. In the first year, male buntings were captured on their breeding territories in summer and held indoors for the winter on the photoregime that they would have encountered in nature as fall migrants and winter residents. The following spring they were released at the time buntings begin spring migration from the subtropics. Half were released on their breeding territories, to which they would normally have returned; half were released far to the south. Some of the males released on their territories remained and passed into breeding condition without having migrated, while some of those released to the south returned north to their territories. The results suggest that endogenous or photoperiodic mechanisms controlling the timing and occurrence of migration in this species can be overridden by experience. In the second year we tested alternative explanations for these results. Our second year's results seem to indicate (1) that birds that deleted migration in year one did not do so because of unfavourable weather and (2) that the birds that returned to their breeding sites in year one were actually migrating and not simply retracing their outward journey.