Scientists have discovered hints about how birds perceive the Earth’s magnetic field by examining robins. The enigma of how birds travel great distances over land and sea has been solved in part.
Birds got an in-built “living compass,” similar to how you could use a magnetic compass to determine which direction is north or south.
A magnetism-sensitive chemical in the eye might be harmful.
Although we don’t know for sure, it’s possible that birds may “see” the Earth’s magnetic field. This is according to Peter Hore, a chemistry professor at the University of Oxford.
“We believe we have found the chemical that permits tiny migratory songbirds to sense the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field, which they can definitely do, and utilize that knowledge to aid their navigation when migrating.” mentioned to BBC News.
Birds migrate early when temperatures increase. They stork avoid migration for junk food. And the smell is the key factor which helps the bird’s navigation ability.
Scientists have been studying how creatures such as birds, sea turtles, fish, and insects detect and use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate for decades.
The European robin is a mainstay of research into birds’ built-in “living compass”. It allows them to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. A cryptochrome molecule found in the retina of the eye is one chemical candidate.
The Oxford researchers tested a pure version of the molecule in the lab. It determines if this can be a magnetic sensor. It has the ability to generate pairs of “radicals” with extraordinary magnetic sensitivity, they discovered. A radical is a highly chemically reactive atom or molecule.
Prof Hore said that the process they’re looking at includes magnetically-sensitive chemical reactions triggered by light inside the bird’s eyes – specifically, the retinas.
“It is plausible – and I would put it no stronger than that at the moment – that these very specialized chemical processes may provide the bird with information about the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field, and so constitute a magnetic compass,” he stated.
Light striking the retina is hypothesized to induce electrons inside the cryptochrome molecule to migrate. This results in the formation of a pair of short-lived high-energy radicals that serve as tiny magnets.
The researchers warn that they needed additional research before they can be certain of the proper mechanism and chemical. The fact that the chemical is more magnetically sensitive in robins than in non-migratory species like chickens gives them hope.
The robin is a common sight in many UK gardens, as the majority of them spend the winter here.
However, some robins do migrate, flying nearly a hundred miles every night to warmer climates in Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia.