Since 1899 ringing (or banding) remained the most important source of information about migration routes, stopover sites and wintering grounds for birds that are too small to carry satellite-based tracking systems. Despite the large quantity of migrating birds ringed in their breeding areas in Europe, the number of ring recoveries from sub-Saharan Africa is very low and therefore the whereabouts of most small bird species outside the breeding season remain a mystery. With new miniaturized light-level geolocators it is now possible to look beyond the limits of ring recovery data. Here we show for the first time year round tracks of a near passerine trans-Saharan migrant, the European Hoopoe (Upupa epops epops). Three birds wintered in the Sahel zone of Western Africa where they remained stationary for most of the time. One bird chose a south-easterly route following the Italian peninsula. Birds from the same breeding population used different migration routes and wintering sites, suggesting a low level of migratory connectivity between breeding and wintering areas. Our tracking of a near passerine bird, the European Hoopoe, with light-level geolocators opens a new chapter in the research of Palaearctic-African bird migration as this new tool revolutionizes our ability to discover migration routes, stopover sites and wintering grounds of small birds
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