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 dendrites² 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 July 31, 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 July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) — With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) — Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
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