This paper reviews the factors and mechanisms which result in the development of the metabolic state characteristic of migration with special reference to a palaeotropic migrant the redheaded bunting,Emberiza bruniceps. Changes in climatic conditions and food supply act as proximate triggers of migratory behaviour in partial migrants. Typical migrants like buntings use daylength as a cue but the exact mechanism of how photoperiodic information is translated in terms of migratory events is still not known. Almost entirely the photoperiodic effects have been explained on the basis of the involvement of hypothalamo/hypophyseal system. We feel mechanism(s) other than those acting through neuroendocrine system may be equally important. Furthermore the role of temperature has not been adequately explored so far. Our observations indicate the possibility that redheaded buntings might integrate the information received from photoperiod with environmental temperature (and other factors?) resulting in the development of migratory state. The physiological control of avian migration is much less understood. Majority of papers have centered around the ‘gonadal hypothesis’ of Rowan supporting or contradicting it without providing conclusive evidence. Pituitary prolactin has also been shown to be implicated although the mechanism of action is only speculative.
Conclusive evidence for the involvement of thyroid hormones (thyroxine, T4; triiodothyronine, T3) in the physiological timing of migration has been produced attributing independent roles to T4 and T3. It is suggested that seasonal variation in peripheral conversion of T4 to T3 could serve as an effective strategy to render available the required thyroid hormones T4 and/or T3 during different phases of the year thus accounting for the metabolic switch over from T4-dependent moult to T3-dependent migratory fat deposition and zugunruhe and also ensuring preclusion of simultaneous occurrence of these mutually incompatible events. Considering that the number of environmental and physiological factors influence this mechanism and considering that thyroid hormone molecule has been put to a wide range of usage during the course of evolution the mechanism(s) of peripheral conversion of T4-T3 may assume great flexibility and have selective value-especially in migration which is known to have evolved several times in diverse avian families.
The attractiveness of this hypothesis lies in the fact that it has potential to explain the both physiological development of the metabolic state of migration and at the same time the physiological timing of migration not only with respect to the cycle of environment but also with respect to other conflicting seasonal events (moult and reproduction).