No apparent gain from continuing migration for more than 3000 kilometres: willow warblers breeding in Denmark winter across the entire northern Savannah as revealed by geolocators

Background: For most Afro-Palearctic migrants, particularly small songbirds, spatiotemporal migration schedules and migratory connectivity remain poorly understood. We mapped migration from breeding through winter of one of the smallest Afro-Palearctic migrants, the willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus, using geolocators (n = 15). Results: Birds migrated from North European breeding grounds to West Africa via the Iberian Peninsula following a narrow corridor along the West Coast of Africa. Birds then dispersed across the northern Savannah with termination of migration highly variable among individuals. The termination of migration appeared not to be related to timing, current and previous years’ vegetation conditions or biometrics. During winter, most birds moved southwards to improved vegetation. Conclusion: The willow warblers showed a large, unexpected longitudinal spread in winter sites of more than 3000 km between individuals breeding within a 500 m range resulting in a low degree of connectivity. The large wintering area may well be related to generalist behaviour in the species. Our findings contribute to understanding the link between breeding and wintering ecology in long-distance migratory birds.