Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Homing Pigeons Get Their Bearings From Their Beaks

Date:
March 19, 2007
Source:
Springer
Summary:
It has long been recognized that birds possess the ability to use the Earth's magnetic field for their navigation, although just how this is done has not yet been clarified. However, the discovery of iron-containing structures in the beaks of homing pigeons now offers a promising insight into this complex topic.

It has long been recognized that birds possess the ability to use the Earth’s magnetic field for their navigation, although just how this is done has not yet been clarified.  However, the discovery of iron-containing structures in the beaks of homing pigeons in a new study1 by Gerta Fleissner and her colleagues at the University of Frankfurt offers a promising insight into this complex topic.  The article will be published online mid-March in Springer’s journal Naturwissenschaften.

In histological and physicochemical examinations in collaboration with HASYLAB, the synchrotron laboratories based in Hamburg, Germany, iron-containing subcellular particles of maghemite and magnetite were found in sensory dendrites˛ of the skin lining the upper beak of homing pigeons.  This research project found that these dendrites are arranged in a complex three-dimensional pattern with different spatial orientation designed to analyze the three components of the magnetic field vector separately.  They react to the Earth’s external magnetic field in a very sensitive and specific manner, thus acting as a three-axis magnetometer.

The study suggests that the birds sense the magnetic field independent of their motion and posture and thus can identify their geographical position.

The researchers further believe that this ability is not unique to homing pigeons as they expect that the ‘pigeon-type receptor system … might turn out to be a universal feature of all birds’.  Equally, this concept might not only exclusively apply to birds, since it has been shown that many animals display behavior that is modified or controlled by the Earth’s magnetic field.

The meaning of these minute iron oxide crystals goes farther than their amazing ability to help pigeons home.  Research into how they work has caught the interest of nanotechnologists concerning their potential application for accurate drug targeting and even as a data storage device.  The main problem, however, lies in their synthetic production.  According to Gerta Fleissner and her colleagues, “Even though birds have been producing these particles for millions of years, the main problem for scientists who want to find benefits from their use will be the technical production of these particles”.

1. Fleissner et al (2007).  A novel concept of Fe-mineral-based magnetoreception: histological and physicochemical data from the upper beak of homing pigeons. Naturwissenschaften (DOI 10.1007/s00114-007-0236-0).

2. A dendrite is a branched extension a nerve cell (neuron)


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Springer. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Springer. "Homing Pigeons Get Their Bearings From Their Beaks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070314134737.htm>.
Springer. (2007, March 19). Homing Pigeons Get Their Bearings From Their Beaks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070314134737.htm
Springer. "Homing Pigeons Get Their Bearings From Their Beaks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070314134737.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Monkeys Are Better At Math Than We Thought, Study Shows

Monkeys Are Better At Math Than We Thought, Study Shows

Newsy (Apr. 23, 2014) — A Harvard University study suggests monkeys can use symbols to perform basic math calculations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur on Monday when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — Drake University hosts 35th annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — One Florida fisherman caught a 805-pound shark off the coast of Florida earlier this month. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins