Chickens also orientate themselves by the Earth's magnetic field

Jul 05, 2007

40 years ago, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wiltschko was the first to prove that migrating robins use the Earth’s magnetic field to direct themselves during migration. Their magnetic sensor showed them the course of the field lines of the Earth’s magnetic field.

This produces an inclination compass that reacts to the inclination of the Earth’s magnetic field to the surface of the Earth, thus distinguishing between “pole-wards” (the side on which the field lines incline downwards) and “equator-wards” (the side on which they incline upwards). The inbuilt compass is additionally finely tuned to the field strength of the Earth’s local magnetic field, but can also be flexibly adapted to other field strengths that the birds encounter in the course of migration.

Since that time a compass of this kind has been found in more than 20 species of birds, the majority of them being those songbirds that undertake annual migration.

An international working group under the direction of Wolfgang und Roswitha Wiltschko of Frankfurt University has now succeeded in demonstrating the presence of a magnetic sense of direction in domestic chickens as well.

For this purpose, newly hatched chicks were imprinted on a red ball which they from then on regarded as their ‘mother’. The researchers then hid the ball behind one of four screens, and taught the chickens by intensive training that the mother was always behind the screen that was in the northerly direction.

To demonstrate that the chicken senses this compass point by means of its magnetic sense of direction, the researchers set up an artificial magnetic field in an easterly direction – and the chickens did actually seek their mother behind the screen that lay to the east.

Further experiments showed that the chickens’ magnetic sensor functions very similarly to that of the robin. It also reacts to the inclination and the local field strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic sensor is probably situated in the eye, since the birds need short-wave light (such as blue light) to orientate themselves. In long-wave light above the yellow level this ability is lost in all the birds that have so far been tested. From these similarities the research group has deduced that a magnetic sense of direction could be an ability common to all birds.

Since one has to go back very far in evolutionary history to find a common ancestor for chickens and robins, this ability must have developed before the birds began to migrate. Accordingly it seems that the magnetic sense of direction was already used by primitive bird-forms to move efficiently in their environment between their nests, sleeping places, and sources of food and water.

Source: Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt

Explore further: Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Domain walls in nanowires cleverly set in motion

Apr 08, 2014

Researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have achieved a major breakthrough in the development of methods of information processing in nanomagnets. Using a new trick, they have been able to ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

6 hours ago

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

9 hours ago

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...