Flexible navigation response in common cuckoos Cuculus canorus displaced experimentally during migration

Migrating birds follow innate species-specific migration programs capable of guiding them along complex spatio-temporal routes, which may include several separate staging areas. Indeed, migration routes of common cuckoos Cuculus canorus show little variation between individuals; yet, satellite tracks of 11 experimentally displaced adults revealed an unexpected flexibility in individual navigation responses. The birds compensated for the translocation to unfamiliar areas by travelling toward population-specific staging areas, demonstrating true navigation capabilities. Individual responses varied from travelling toward the first stopover in northern Europe to flying toward the Central-African winter grounds, the latter including several stopovers in unfamiliar areas. Apparently, the cuckoos possess spatial knowledge far beyond their population-specific flyway scale, and make individual decisions likely based on an assessment of perceived gain and cost of alternative route options.