Chickens orient using a magnetic compass

Aug 22, 2005
Chickens orient using a magnetic compass

It has been known for some time that many species of birds use the Earth's magnetic field to select a direction of movement--for example, during migration. However, although such birds clearly have a sense of direction, until now it has not been possible to train birds to move in a certain direction in the laboratory, even if they are motivated by a food reward. The reasons for this failure have been perplexing, but researchers now report that they have been able to successfully accomplish this training task, providing new insight into the evolution of magnetic sensing and opening new opportunities for further study of magnetoreception.

In the new work, researchers including Rafael Freire from the University of New England (Australia), Wolfgang Wiltschko and Roswitha Wiltschko from the University of Frankfurt, Germany, and Ursula Munro from the University of Technology in Sydney, demonstrated for the first time that birds could be trained to respond to a magnetic direction. The researchers trained domestic chicks to find an object that was associated with imprinting and was behind one of four screens placed in the corners of a square apparatus, and, crucially, showed that the chicks' direction of movement during searching for the hidden imprinting stimulus was influenced by shifting the magnetic field.

One important difference between this work and earlier attempts to train birds is that the researchers used a social stimulus to train the birds, whereas most previous attempts have used food as the reward. The authors of the study hypothesize that in nature, birds do not use magnetic signals to find food, and tests involving such a response may be alien to them.

It is expected that this work will facilitate current efforts to understand how birds detect the magnetic field, because the new approach does not rely on complex behaviors, such as migration or homing, that are difficult to study in the laboratory and are dependent on the time of year. The work also shows that the ability to orient with magnetic cues is not only present in an ancient avian lineage dating back to the cretaceous period, but has also been retained in a nonmigrating bird after thousands of years of domestication.

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: Alternate theory of inhabitation of North America disproved

Related Stories

Green and red auroras light up St. Patrick's day dawn

Mar 18, 2015

A strong G3 geomagetic storm surged across the planet this morning producing a spectacular display of the northern lights. Some of you may who may have risen to see the new nova were no doubt as surprised ...

Disappearing homing pigeon mystery solved

Jan 30, 2013

Homing pigeons are usually remarkably efficient navigators, however, on rare occasions, things go drastically wrong. So, when Jon Hagstrum of the US Geological Survey read in his local newspaper about two ...

These jellyfish aren't just drifters

Jan 22, 2015

Jellyfish might look like mere drifters, but some of them have a remarkable ability to detect the direction of ocean currents and to swim strongly against them, according to new evidence in free-ranging barrel-jellyfish ...

Recommended for you

Bizarre 'platypus' dinosaur discovered

7 hours ago

Although closely related to the notorious carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex, a new lineage of dinosaur discovered in Chile is proving to be an evolutionary jigsaw puzzle, as it preferred to graze upon plants.

Is the universe a hologram?

7 hours ago

Describing the universe requires fewer dimensions than we might think. New calculations show that this may not just be a mathematical trick, but a fundamental feature of space itself.

User comments : 0

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.