The population-specific orientation of two groups of blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), one from southwest Germany, the other from easternmost Austria, was studied outdoors in Emlen funnels. We investigated whether a seasonal shift in the migratory direction — as expected for the Austrian birds from ringing recoveries — occurs under experimental conditions and in a seasonally constant magnetic field. The West German birds, for which no shift was expected, oriented southwest during the entire season. The Austrian birds oriented southeast in October and southsouthwest in November. The clockwise shift by about 60° occurred within a 10-day period.
The results indicate that in this species seasonal changes of migratory direction are probably based on an endogenous program, occur without the birds actually migrating and are independent of changes in the magnetic field. Our results provide further evidence that directional shifts in Sylvia warblers may be controlled by a different mechanism than in pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca).