Individual Black-Tailed Godwits Do Not Stick to Single Routes: A Hypothesis on How Low Population Densities Might Decrease Social Conformity

A. H. Jelle Loonstra*, Mo A. Verhoeven, Adam Zbyryt, Ester Schaaf, Christiaan Both, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The miniaturization of tracking devices is now rapidly increasing our knowledge on the spatiotemporal organization of seasonal migration. So far, most studies aimed at understanding within- and between-individual variation in migratory routines focus on single populations. This has also been the case for continental Black-tailed Godwits Limosa l. limosa (hereafter Godwits), with most work carried out on individuals from the Dutch breeding population, migrating in relatively large numbers in the westernmost part of the range. Here we report the migratory timing and routes of four adult individuals of the same subspecies from the low-density population in eastern Poland and compare this with previously published data on Godwits breeding in The Netherlands. During northward migration, the birds from Poland departed and arrived later from their wintering and breeding grounds. However, on southward migration the Polish breeding Godwits departed earlier, but arrived one month later than the Dutch birds on their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the small sample size of tracked birds from Poland, we find a significantly higher between-individual variation in timing during southward migration in Polish Godwits as compared to the Dutch Godwits. Furthermore, not only did migratory routes differ, but the few Polish Godwits tracked showed a higher level of between- and within-individual variation in route choice during both southward and northward migration. To explain this remarkable discrepancy, we propose that the properties of transmission of social information may be different between Godwits from a high-density population (i.e. the one in The Netherlands) and a low-density population (in Poland) and that this leads to different levels of canalization. To examine this hypothesis, future studies should not only follow individuals from an early age onwards, but also quantify and experimentally manipulate their social environments during migration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-261
Number of pages11
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2019


  • Black-tailed Godwit
  • long-distance seasonal migration
  • population exchange
  • satellite tracking
  • social learning


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