Oct 4, 2008

Science Scene - Birds' Sixth Sense

Today's entry comes courtesy of PopSci.

The key to a bird's navigational prowess.

Scientists have known for years that map sense stems from the magnetite in birds' beaks, which measures the strength of the Earth's magnetic fields so they recognize home when they get there. But how do they know which direction home is? Researchers at the University of Oxford have pinpointed a mechanism, in the lab at least, that may act as a bird's compass. The compound, called a CPF triad, was used for the experiment because it's similar to proteins found in migratory birds' retinas. When illuminated with a blue light typical of dusk, which is when birds orient themselves, CPF formed two unpaired electrons that spin in opposite directions.

A magnetic field forced the electrons to align, providing a fixed location for the birds to call north. Avian specialists think it's like having a fighter pilot's eyes, like a head-up display, birds can activate a layer of vision to see Earth's magnetic field lines.

Now, I do not believe that birds have a head-up display, or special vision, but I do believe that there is interesting information regarding magnetic fields, and the magnetite in their beaks. The whole migration phenomena is amazing.


  1. I found this interesting. I've often wondered how they knew. Fascinating to learn of the magnetic sensors in birds. (Hugs) Indigo

  2. Wow, that's neat. I've read things about sonar and other possibilities but never any details about how magnetic fields could play a part.

    What amazes me is how far hummingbirds travel to their southern homes. Those little things fly across the Gulf of Mexico! Unbelievable.


  3. I spent a lot of time outside today watching the geese head south. It's amazing.

  4. Is there any literature that can tell me why those birds always poop on my newly washed car? It happens all the time.


  5. I didn't know most of that, and I found it very interesting. I have often wandered about the formations. I knew of magnetic fields, but not so much about the birds responses to it. Good read, I will research it further.


  6. How neat is that? I love learning things like this. Only God could design such a thing.

  7. Very interesting, I too find the migration of birds to be fascinating.


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