Pigeon beaks have navigation system
March 14, 2007
Birds may use sensors in their beaks to navigate long distances without getting lost according to a new study published in the scientific journal Naturwissenschaften.
German scientists found iron-containing structures in the beaks of homing pigeons that might enable the birds to use the earth’s magnetic field for navigation.
“The study suggests that the birds sense the magnetic field independent of their motion and posture and thus can identify their geographical position,” stated publisher Naturwissenschaften Springer in a release.
Nicobar pigeon photo by Rhett A. butler
The researchers believe the “pigeon-type receptor system might turn out to be a universal feature of all birds” and may also be found in other species of animals. For example, a study published in late February in Current Biology suggested that sea turtles use a similar mechanism to return to nesting beaches after swimming thousands of miles.
The researchers say that the iron oxide crystals found in bird beaks may have practical applications for human use, including more accurate drug targeting and data storage.
CITATION: 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).
This article is based on a news release from Scripps.