Birds migrate using magnetic map

February 7, 2013
Birds migrate using magnetic map
European robin. Credit: jcoelho

Migrating birds use magnetic particles within their body to create a 'map' with which to navigate using the earth's magnetic field, according to new research published today in Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Thanks to new tracking technology, Richard Holland and Barbara Helm from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, were able to show that adult but not (those making their first migration) are disrupted during their migration by magnetic pulse treatments administered before departure, suggesting that their are used as a 'map' sense to tell them where they are on their migratory journey.

Previous experiments on certain bacteria had indicated that a brief, strong magnetic pulse (greater than 0.1 T) re-magnetizes their magnetic material and leads to incorrect orientation. Based on these findings, it was proposed that if birds used a magnetic sensory pathway to navigate using the earth's magnetic field, they should likewise orient incorrectly after treatment with a magnetic pulse.

Adults that departed within 10 days of pulse treatment (after which the effects wear off) failed to show significant orientation and deviated more from mean migration direction than adult controls and juveniles. More investigation is needed, but this new data gives field-based support for a magnetic map-sense during .

Explore further: Chickens also orientate themselves by the Earth's magnetic field

More information: Holland, R. and Helm, B. A strong magnetic pulse affects the precision of departure direction of naturally migrating adult but not juvenile birds, Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Related Stories

Birds 'See' Earth's Magnetic Field

November 16, 2009

When birds migrate over long distances -- sometimes thousands of miles -- they usually end up in exactly the same place year after year. Such accurate feats of navigation, accomplished by millions of birds every year, have ...

Geomagnetic storm subsiding

April 14, 2011

A geomagnetic storm that sparked auroras around the Arctic Circle and sent Northern Lights spilling over the Canadian border into the United States on April 12, 2011 is subsiding. NOAA forecasters estimate a 25% chance of ...

More light shed on how pigeons navigate

April 27, 2012

( -- Pigeons are renowned for their ability to find their way home from a release point hundreds of miles away, but scientists have never fully understood how they are able to achieve the feat. Now a new study has ...

Recommended for you

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

October 4, 2015

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM ...

Ancestral background can be determined by fingerprints

September 28, 2015

A proof-of-concept study finds that it is possible to identify an individual's ancestral background based on his or her fingerprint characteristics – a discovery with significant applications for law enforcement and anthropological ...

Trade in invasive plants is blossoming

October 3, 2015

Every day, hundreds of different plant species—many of them listed as invasive—are traded online worldwide on auction platforms. This exacerbates the problem of uncontrollable biological invasions.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.