Pigeons may ‘hear’ magnetic fields

  title={Pigeons may ‘hear’ magnetic fields},
  author={Daniel Cressey},
The science of birds’ magnetic sense grows more complicated. 



Lateralization of magnetic compass orientation in a migratory bird

It is found that captive migrants tested in cages with the magnetic field as the only available orientation cue were well oriented in their appropriate migratory direction when using their right eye only, but failed to show a significant directional preference when using the left eye.

Neural Correlates of a Magnetic Sense

Neurons responses in the pigeon’s brainstem are described that show how single cells encode magnetic field direction, intensity, and polarity; qualities that are necessary to derive an internal model representing directional heading and geosurface location.

Clusters of iron-rich cells in the upper beak of pigeons are macrophages not magnetosensitive neurons

It is shown that clusters of iron-rich cells in the rostro-medial upper beak of the pigeon Columbia livia are macrophages, not magnetosensitive neurons, which necessitates a renewed search for the true magnetite-dependent magnetoreceptor in birds.

Wiltschko et al. reply

The paper had two conclusions: (1) magnetic compass information is mediated by the eyes, as had been proposed by Ritz and colleagues, and (2) the magnetic compass is lateralized in favour of the right eye.

Magnetic materials in otoliths of bird and fish lagena and their function.

By comparing the compositions of the three different kinds of otoliths among several species of sea fish and birds, it is found that the saccular and utricular Otoliths rarely contain detectable levels of iron but that iron is present in significant quantities in the lagenal otolithS of the birds.

Robins have a magnetic compass in both eyes

The results of Wiltschko et al. could not be independently confirmed using double-blind protocols and it is shown that European Robins can perform magnetic compass orientation with both eyes open, with the left eye open only, and with the right eyes open only.