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Migratory birds use head scans to detect the direction of the earth’s magnetic field

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Mouritsen_2004.pdf
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Citation

Mouritsen, H., Feenders, G., Liedvogel, M., & Kropp, W. (2004). Migratory birds use head scans to detect the direction of the earth’s magnetic field. Current Biology, 14(21), 1946-1949. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.10.025.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0028-7BC5-A
Abstract
Night-migratory songbirds are known to use a magnetic compass [1–3], but how do they detect the reference direction provided by the geomagnetic field, and where is the sensory organ located? The most prominent characteristic of geomagnetic sensory input, whether based on visual patterns [4–7] or magnetite-mediated forces [8, 9], is the predicted symmetry around the north-south or east-west magnetic axis. Here, we show that caged migratory garden warblers perform head-scanning behavior well suited to detect this magnetic symmetry plane. In the natural geomagnetic field, birds move toward their migratory direction after head scanning. In a zero-magnetic field [10], where no symmetry plane exists, the birds almost triple their head-scanning frequency, and the movement direction after a head scan becomes random. Thus, the magnetic sensory organ is located in the bird's head, and head scans are used to locate the reference direction provided by the geomagnetic field.