Experimental tests of a seasonally changing visual preference for habitat in a long-distance migratory shorebird

Eva M. A. Kok*, Jerry A. Hogan, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Migratory shorebirds show highly organized seasonal cycles in physiological and morphological traits (body mass and composition, plumage, hormone levels, etc.), which in captivity is accompanied by restless behaviour at times when free-living birds would start migration. We introduce the idea that seasonally changing preference for habitat could motivate migrants to embark on migration and that this cognitive process could also guide them to seasonally appropriate places. We explored this by testing whether red knots (Calidris canutus), which also in captivity maintain marked circannual phenotypic rhythms, show evidence of seasonal change in preference for pictures of seasonally appropriate habitats. We first developed a method to verify whether red knots are able to memorize and discriminate contrasting pictures projected by LCD projectors. This was followed by two different experiments in which we tested for a seasonally changing preference for breeding or non-breeding habitat. When carried out during the pre-breeding season, the red knots are expected to prefer pictures of mudflats, their non-breeding habitat. At the start of the breeding season, they should prefer pictures of the tundra breeding habitat. We established that knots are able to distinguish and memorize projected images. We failed to demonstrate the predicted change in vision-based habitat preference, but for reasons of test design we do not interpret this as a strong rejection of the hypothesis. Instead, we suggest that experiments with greater numbers of individuals tested once, perhaps in combination with the provision of additional cues such as smells and sounds, will help the development of these ideas further.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681–693
Number of pages13
JournalEthology
Volume126
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19-May-2020

Keywords

  • Calidris canutus
  • circannual rhythms
  • cognition
  • memory
  • migration
  • motivation
  • SPATIAL MEMORY
  • PLUMAGE VARIABILITY
  • OBJECT RECOGNITION
  • JUNCO-HYEMALIS
  • BASE-LINE
  • PIGEONS
  • CORTICOSTERONE
  • DISCRIMINATION
  • NAVIGATION
  • PICTURES

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