Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Magnetic Sensors In Birds Other Than Migrating Birds: Chickens Also Use Earth's Magnetic Field

Date:
July 6, 2007
Source:
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Summary:
Until recently, people believed that the ability to orientate themselves by the Earth's magnetic field was restricted to migratory birds. Now ornithologists at Frankfurt University have discovered that domestic chickens also have a built-in compass. It is clear that a magnetic sense of direction developed at an early stage of evolution. The Earth's magnetic field was presumably used by the ancestors of today's birds as an aid to finding their way about their environment.

Until recently, people believed that the ability to orientate themselves by the Earth's magnetic field was restricted to migratory birds. Now ornithologists at Frankfurt University have discovered that domestic chickens also have a built-in compass. It is clear that a magnetic sense of direction developed at an early stage of evolution. The Earth's magnetic field was presumably used by the ancestors of today's birds as an aid to finding their way about their environment.

Related Articles


40 years ago, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wiltschko was the first to prove that migrating robins use the Earth's magnetic field to direct themselves during migration. Their magnetic sensor showed them the course of the field lines of the Earth's magnetic field. This produces an inclination compass that reacts to the inclination of the Earth's magnetic field to the surface of the Earth, thus distinguishing between "pole-wards" (the side on which the field lines incline downwards) and "equator-wards" (the side on which they incline upwards). The inbuilt compass is additionally finely tuned to the field strength of the Earth's local magnetic field, but can also be flexibly adapted to other field strengths that the birds encounter in the course of migration.

Since that time a compass of this kind has been found in more than 20 species of birds, the majority of them being those songbirds that undertake annual migration. An international working group under the direction of Wolfgang und Roswitha Wiltschko of Frankfurt University has now succeeded in demonstrating the presence of a magnetic sense of direction in domestic chickens as well.

For this purpose, newly hatched chicks were imprinted on a red ball which they from then on regarded as their 'mother'. The researchers then hid the ball behind one of four screens, and taught the chickens by intensive training that the mother was always behind the screen that was in the northerly direction. To demonstrate that the chicken senses this compass point by means of its magnetic sense of direction, the researchers set up an artificial magnetic field in an easterly direction -- and the chickens did actually seek their mother behind the screen that lay to the east.

Further experiments showed that the chickens' magnetic sensor functions very similarly to that of the robin. It also reacts to the inclination and the local field strength of the Earth's magnetic field. The magnetic sensor is probably situated in the eye, since the birds need short-wave light (such as blue light) to orientate themselves. In long-wave light above the yellow level this ability is lost in all the birds that have so far been tested.

From these similarities the research group has deduced that a magnetic sense of direction could be an ability common to all birds. Since one has to go back very far in evolutionary history to find a common ancestor for chickens and robins, this ability must have developed before the birds began to migrate. Accordingly it seems that the magnetic sense of direction was already used by primitive bird-forms to move efficiently in their environment between their nests, sleeping places, and sources of food and water.

Reference: W. Wiltschko et al. (2007): The magnetic compass of domestic chickens, Gallus gallus. Journal of Experimental Biology 210, 2300-2310.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. "Magnetic Sensors In Birds Other Than Migrating Birds: Chickens Also Use Earth's Magnetic Field." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070705101457.htm>.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. (2007, July 6). Magnetic Sensors In Birds Other Than Migrating Birds: Chickens Also Use Earth's Magnetic Field. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070705101457.htm
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. "Magnetic Sensors In Birds Other Than Migrating Birds: Chickens Also Use Earth's Magnetic Field." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070705101457.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) — A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Surfer Accidentally Stands on Shark, Gets Bitten

Surfer Accidentally Stands on Shark, Gets Bitten

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) — A 20-year-old competition surfer said on Thursday he accidentally stepped on a shark's head before it bit him off the Australian east coast. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Inflicts Heavy Toll on Guinean Potato Trade

Ebola Inflicts Heavy Toll on Guinean Potato Trade

AFP (Oct. 30, 2014) — The Ebola epidemic has seen Senegal and Guinea Bissau close its borders with Guinea and the economic consequences have started to be felt, especially in Fouta Djallon, where the renowned potato industry has been hit hard. Duration: 02:01 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Genetically Altered Glowing Flower on Display in Tokyo

Genetically Altered Glowing Flower on Display in Tokyo

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 30, 2014) — Just in time for Halloween, a glowing flower goes on display in Tokyo. Instead of sorcery and magic, its creators used science to genetically modify the flower, adding a naturally fluorescent plankton protein to its genetic mix. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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