Remarkably similar migration patterns between different red-backed shrike populations suggest that migration rather than breeding area phenology determines the annual cycle

The regular fluctuation of resources across the Globe guides movements of migratory animals. To ensure sufficient reproductive output and maintain viable population sizes, migratory animals should match arrival at breeding areas with local peaks in resource availability. It is generally assumed that breeding phenology dictates the timing of the annual cycle, but this is poorly studied. Here, we use light-level geolocator tracking data to compare the annual spatiotemporal migration patterns of a long-distance migratory songbird, the red-backed shrike, Lanius collurio, breeding at widely different latitudes within Europe. We find that populations use remarkably similar migration routes and are highly synchronized in time. Additional tracks from populations breeding at the edges of the European range support these similar migration patterns. When comparing timing of breeding and vegetation phenology, as a measure of resource availability across populations, we find that arrival and timing of breeding corresponds to the peak in vegetation greenness at northern latitudes. At lower latitudes birds arrive simultaneously with the more northerly breeding populations, but after the local greenness peak, suggesting that breeding area phenology does not determine the migratory schedule. Rather, timing of migration in red-backed shrikes may be constrained by events in other parts of the annual cycle.