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February 07, 2004

Homing Pigeon Navigation

CNN recently reported on the findings of this group at Oxford, who study how homing pigeons navigate.

Apparently, the pigeons weren't using magnetic navigation, but were navigating primarily via ground features. It is pretty clear from this map that they are following roads.

I have often wondered what would happen to birds under a re-alignment of the magnetic poles (this happens occasionally). Birds depending on their magnetic sense would be confused as a species, and would probably lose their magnetic sense to natural selection. This, of course, would lead one to suspect that magnetic navigation in birds isn't as sensitive as was previously thought, and that it is used primarily as a long range guide.

I suspect that birds with short range migration patterns probably do not have their magnetic sense as well developed as long range ones. Clearly, there are birds that migrate over large bodies of water, so the magnetic navigation theory cannot be excluded outright (there is a large body of data that supports this).

Posted by chrisg at 12:10 PM