top of page

Study reveals how pigeons orient themselves

The orientation of homing pigeons is a fascinating subject that has intrigued researchers for decades. A recent study by German researchers from the University of Frankfurt and the University of California has revealed the secret of pigeon orientation: a compass-sensitive organ in their retina.


The researchers used spectrometry analysis at the Hamburg synchrotron to discover that this organ consists of cells called photoreceptors containing a protein called cryptochrome, which is sensitive to blue light. When pigeons are exposed to this light, the cryptochrome changes shape and interacts with the earth's natural magnets, allowing the pigeons to detect the direction of the compass.



To prove this hypothesis, the researchers exposed pigeons to artificial magnetic fields and observed that the pigeons adjusted their orientation according to these fields, showing that their compass-sensitive organ is able to detect magnetic fields.


This discovery will help to understand how pigeons can navigate over thousands of kilometres, even when they are in overcast environments or when visual signals are absent. The researchers believe that these results could also have applications in the development of navigation systems for robots and autonomous vehicles.


It is important to note that the orientation of homing pigeons is a complex phenomenon that depends on many factors, such as visual cues, odours and geographical knowledge acquired during breeding. This study provides a fascinating insight into one aspect of this incredible navigational ability of pigeons.


In summary, this study by German researchers Wolfgang Wiltschko, Roswitha Wiltschko and Thorsten Ritz, published in 2011, uncovered the compass-sensitive organ in the pigeon's retina that enables them to navigate accurately over long distances. This discovery opens new perspectives for understanding how pigeons navigate and could have applications in the development of navigation systems for robots and autonomous vehicles.


The mechanism of the avian magnetic compass, Wolfgang Wiltschko1, Roswitha Wiltschko1, Thorsten Ritz2

2011 The mechanism of the avian magnetic compass
.pdf
Download PDF • 677KB

Comments


bottom of page