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: Physicists create tool to foresee language destruction impact and thus prevent it

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bats use polarized light to navigate

Jul 22, 2014

Scientists have discovered that greater mouse-eared bats use polarisation patterns in the sky to navigate – the first mammal that's known to do this.

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 ...

Explainer: How do homing pigeons navigate?

Apr 23, 2014

Pigeons have extraordinary navigational abilities. Take a pigeon from its loft and let it go somewhere it has never been before and it will, after circling in the sky for while, head home. This remarkable ...

Recommended for you

Affirmative action elicits bias in pro-equality Caucasians

10 hours ago

New research from Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business indicates that bias towards the effects of affirmative action exists in not only people opposed to it, but also in those who strongly endorse equality.

Narcissistic CEOs and financial performance

Jul 24, 2014

Narcissism, considered by some as the "dark side of the executive personality," may actually be a good thing when it comes to certain financial measures, with companies led by narcissistic CEOs outperforming those helmed ...

Election surprises tend to erode trust in government

Jul 24, 2014

When asked who is going to win an election, people tend to predict their own candidate will come out on top. When that doesn't happen, according to a new study from the University of Georgia, these "surprised losers" often ...

User comments : 0