Evidence for a navigational map stretching across the continental US. in a migratory songbird

Billions of songbirds migrate several thousand kilometers from breeding to wintering grounds and are challenged with crossing ecological barriers and facing displacement by winds along the route. A satisfactory explanation of long-distance animal navigation is still lacking, partly because of limitations on field-based study. The navigational tasks faced by adults and juveniles differ fundamentally, because only adults migrate toward wintering grounds known from the previous year. Here, we show by radio tracking from small aircraft that only adult, and not juvenile, long-distance migrating white-crowned sparrows rapidly recognize and correct for a continent-wide displacement of 3,700 km from the west coast of North America to previously unvisited areas on the east coast. These results show that the learned navigational map used by adult long-distance migratory songbirds extends at least on a continental scale. The juveniles with less experience rely on their innate program to find their distant wintering areas and continue to migrate in the innate direction without correcting for displacement.