Do birds sleep in flight?

Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology-Seewiesen, Postfach 1564, D-82305, Starnberg, Germany.
The Science of Nature (Impact Factor: 2.1). 10/2006; 93(9):413-25. DOI: 10.1007/s00114-006-0120-3
Source: PubMed


The following review examines the evidence for sleep in flying birds. The daily need to sleep in most animals has led to the common belief that birds, such as the common swift (Apus apus), which spend the night on the wing, sleep in flight. The electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings required to detect sleep in flight have not been performed, however, rendering the evidence for sleep in flight circumstantial. The neurophysiology of sleep and flight suggests that some types of sleep might be compatible with flight. As in mammals, birds exhibit two types of sleep, slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep. Whereas, SWS can occur in one or both brain hemispheres at a time, REM sleep only occurs bihemispherically. During unihemispheric SWS, the eye connected to the awake hemisphere remains open, a state that may allow birds to visually navigate during sleep in flight. Bihemispheric SWS may also be possible during flight when constant visual monitoring of the environment is unnecessary. Nevertheless, the reduction in muscle tone that usually accompanies REM sleep makes it unlikely that birds enter this state in flight. Upon landing, birds may need to recover the components of sleep that are incompatible with flight. Periods of undisturbed postflight recovery sleep may be essential for maintaining adaptive brain function during wakefulness. The recent miniaturization of EEG recording devices now makes it possible to measure brain activity in flight. Determining if and how birds sleep in flight will contribute to our understanding of a largely unexplored aspect of avian behavior and may also provide insight into the function of sleep.

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Available from: Niels Rattenborg, Jan 12, 2015
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    • "The survival of a bird having a magnetic compass located exclusively in its right eye would be more easily affected by eye-infection or monocular damage than a bird having a functional magnetic compass in both eyes. Likewise, the possibility that birds may show uni-hemispheric sleep during flight [32] would favor bilateral perception of magnetic compass directions in a night-migratory bird. "
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    ABSTRACT: Previous studies on European robins, Erithacus rubecula, and Australian silvereyes, Zosterops lateralis, had suggested that magnetic compass information is being processed only in the right eye and left brain hemisphere of migratory birds. However, recently it was demonstrated that both garden warblers, Sylvia borin, and European robins have a magnetic compass in both eyes. These results raise the question if the strong lateralization effect observed in earlier experiments might have arisen from artifacts or from differences in experimental conditions rather than reflecting a true all-or-none lateralization of the magnetic compass in European robins. Here we show that (1) European robins having only their left eye open can orient in their seasonally appropriate direction both during autumn and spring, i.e. there are no strong lateralization differences between the outward journey and the way home, that (2) their directional choices are based on the standard inclination compass as they are turned 180° when the inclination is reversed, and that (3) the capability to use the magnetic compass does not depend on monocular learning or intraocular transfer as it is already present in the first tests of the birds with only one eye open.
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