Reverse Migration in Australia?

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Reverse Migration in Australia?
From: Adrian Boyle <>
Date: Sun, 12 May 2013 09:02:27 +0800 (WST)

Hi all 

Recent discussions on birding aus about the Forest Wagtail being possibly a 
reverse migrant yet again got me thinking about this. 

Do we really get reverse migration in Australia? 

I’m not sure to be honest and just putting it out there but there are some 
points that don’t really add up. 

I guess reverse migration is often used as a term in Europe where there is a 
lot of evidence to support this. So if they have it there why shouldn’t we? 

Europe’s location is the most important thing. Its North of the vagrants 
breeding grounds. 

I guess the starting point of a reverse migrant depends on the species in 
question. But to simplify things let’s say it’s a Yellow-browed Warbler. They 
are vagrants in the UK but getting more numerous. 

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in various places in Asia but let’s say our 
warbler breeds in Mongolia. 

The chick is raised and if it’s got reverse migration then instead of heading 
down to the Malaysian peninsular taking a SE track it takes a NW track and ends 
up in Europe. Some of these birds certainly would die during the harsh winter 
but some clearly survive and in some species it is thought that they survive 
and breed the following season eg back in Mongolia and their offspring may even 
travel back to Europe and hence why some species that were super rare 20-30 
years ago are now much more common in Europe. 

Back to our Yellow-browed Warbler. He/she hangs out in Europe in some nice not 
so cold climate and when the time comes heads back to the breeding grounds to 
breed. Raises young and repeats. 

This is reverse migration as its heading in the complete opposite direction of 
where it should have been going eg NW instead of SE. 

So how do we explain our Forest Wagtail. If it was raised in say northern China 
and had a problem with reverse migration should it not have headed North 
instead of South after it was born? Maybe our Forest Wagtail did but then 
shouldn’t it now be heading further south back to the breeding grounds? 

So that’s the bit I don’t understand if it’s a reverse migrant and its headed 
south to Alice then where did it go after it was born? If it’s a reverse 
migrant then why has it not gone back to the breeding grounds after going 

I hope this makes sense but to me the concept of reverse migration may work in 
Europe it doesn’t seem to work for Australia. 

It would make sense if it were a species that bred in Malaysia and in March 
April headed north to take advantage of the Arctic summer but instead headed 
south to Australia. 

Why is the Wagtail not just a bird that overshot its wintering grounds in 
Southern Asia in Sept Oct. (lots of birds do this) It could have been in 
Adelaide the whole summer ( maybe in Tony Russel’s garden) and is or was 
heading north and stopped in Alice and ended up in not its ideal habitat and 
has decided to not head north this summer to breed. 

Maybe it will head North but it is cutting it a bit fine. The latest personal 
migration I have seen was Red Knots on the 13th of May several years ago out of 

Yellow Wagtails tend to leave Broome very late April or early May. 

I’m no expert on this. It’s just my thoughts and look forward to someone coming 
up with a possible explanation for me. 

Maybe this is what all the OBP’s are doing and instead of heading north to the 
mainland and are instead heading south and dying in Antarctica. (joking) 

Cheers Adrian Boyle 


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