Full-year tracking suggests endogenous control of migration timing in a long-distance migratory songbird

Following ongoing technological advances, an increasing amount of full-year tracking data on individual migratory movements is becoming available. This opens up the opportunity to study how migration develops within individuals in consecutive years and the extent to which the migratory program is constrained. Such knowledge is essential for understanding the degree of individual flexibility during the annual cycle, which may help identifying potential bottle-necks, where the range of individual decisions is restricted. In this study, we investigate repeatability in time of a long-distance migratory songbird, the red-backed shrike Lanius collurio, tracked across consecutive years (n = 7). Furthermore, we explore the population variability and dependencies between consecutive events of departure and arrival throughout the annual cycle in this species (n = 15). We find that individuals show high repeatability in timing of departure from their two main non-breeding areas in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, low repeatability is found in timing of arrivals to stationary sites throughout the annual cycle. Population variation in timing of departure and arrival was similar across all events, ranging from 30 to 41 days, and was highly dependent on timing of preceding events. We conclude that timing of departures is the key event potentially controlled by the individual innate migration program, while arrivals are more flexible, likely dependent on the environmental conditions experienced en route in red-backed shrikes. Still, apparent flexibility in the individual schedule may be hampered by overall constraints of the annual cycle.