The Earth's magnetic field and celestial cues provide animals with compass information during migration. Inherited magnetic compass courses are selected based on the angle of inclination, making it difficult to orient in the near vertical fields found at high geomagnetic latitudes. Orientation cage experiments were performed at different sites in high Arctic Canada with adult and young white–crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii) in order to investigate birds' ability to use the Earth's magnetic field and celestial cues for orientation in naturally very steep magnetic fields at and close to the magnetic North Pole. Experiments were performed during the natural period of migration at night in the local geomagnetic field under natural clear skies and under simulated total overcast conditions. The experimental birds failed to select a meaningful magnetic compass course under overcast conditions at the magnetic North Pole, but could do so in geomagnetic fields deviating less than 3° from the vertical. Migratory orientation was successful at all sites when celestial cues were available.