Occurrence of quiescence in free-ranging migratory songbirds

Lynn N. Schofield, Jill L. Deppe, Robert H. Diehl, Michael P. Ward, Rachel T. Bolus, Theodore J. Zenzal, Jaclyn Smolinsky, Frank R. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Quiescence is a period of inactivity that occurs before the onset of migratory activity in nocturnally migrating birds. This behavior has been observed in captive birds in migratory disposition, but its occurrence in free-ranging migratory birds has been documented only anecdotally, and causal factors and function(s), if any, are unknown. In this study, we documented and characterized quiescence in three migratory songbird species (red-eyed vireo [Vireo olivaceus], Swainson’s thrush [Catharus ustulatus], and wood thrush [Hylocichla mustelina]) by measuring movement and proportion of time spent inactive prior to departure from a stopover site during fall migration. Individuals of each species displayed a period of inactivity prior to departure which varied from less than 30 min to over 90 min with red-eyed vireos engaged in the longest, most pronounced quiescence. We also examined how quiescence was related to intrinsic and extrinsic factors known to influence the departure of migrating birds, and found some evidence for an effect of age and departure time but no effect of a migrant’s energetic condition, departure direction, atmospheric conditions around departure, or day of year on quiescence. Our novel application of an automated radiotelemetry system yielded a large amount of data to characterize quiescence in free-ranging migratory birds, and we provide guidance for future studies to tease apart the various causal factors and function(s) of this migratory behavior. Significance statement: Quiescence is a poorly understood period of inactivity observed among captive and free-ranging migratory songbirds prior to the onset of nocturnal activity. Our novel use of automated radiotelemetry revealed quiescence among three intercontinental migratory songbirds. It also enabled us to ask how quiescence might be related to intrinsic and extrinsic factors known to influence the departure of migrating birds, and provided an opportunity to explore possible function(s), if any, of this intriguing behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number36
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Automated radiotelemetry
  • Catharus ustulatus
  • Hylocichla mustelina
  • Migration
  • Quiescence
  • Vireo olivaceus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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