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Many species of diurnal birds migrate nocturnally. Here, a series of studies of the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) on the relationship between nocturnal restlessness and melatonin, a hormone that in birds modulates day-night rhythms, are reviewed. Migratory populations from Sweden and Kenya were compared with resident populations from Cape Verde. In blackcaps of migratory populations, night levels of melatonin were lower during the migratory period, when birds showed nocturnal activity, than before and after this period, when birds did not show nocturnal activity. On the contrary, the occurrence of periodic or irregular phases of nocturnal activity in some nonmigratory birds from Cape Verde was not accompanied by a reduction in melatonin levels. In a second series of experiments, it was studied whether melatonin levels change when nocturnally active blackcaps are experimentally transferred from a migratory to a nonmigratory state. A long migratory flight and a refueling stopover were simulated by depriving birds of food for 2 days, subsequently readministering food. The experiments were done in autumn with birds collected in Sweden, and repeated in spring with birds collected in Kenya. In autumn, there was a suppression of nocturnal activity and an increase in melatonin in the night following food reintroduction. In spring, the effects were qualitatively similar, but their extent depended on the amount of body fat reserves. Taken together, the studies demonstrate the existence of a functional relationship between melatonin and nocturnal restlessness and of seasonal differences in the response of the migratory program to food availability.
Africa, Western Animal Migration/physiology* Animals Circadian Rhythm/physiology Melatonin/physiology* Passeriformes/physiology* Sweden Time Factors