Birds have a compass, not a map
The navigation techniques used by migrating birds has long been a source of great interest for biologists.
A new study by Dr. Ryan Norris from the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph has found that the white-throated sparrow is capable of finding its way by using the Earth's magnetic field, as well as sense of smell. But it's not a true navigator.
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In an experiment, the birds were displaced 3,000 kilometres to the west of the Ontario stop on their northward migration toward the boreal forest. When released, the sparrows continued to fly north, unaware of their displacement. This shows that they are capable of navigating by latitude, but not longitude.
The researchers believe that because this species of sparrow does not migrate over as long a distance as other birds, and has a huge migrational target, the boreal forest, it may not require true navigational skills.
- Paper in Scientific Reports: Experienced migratory songbirds do not display goal-ward orientation after release following a cross-continental displacement: an automated telemetry study
- The Norris Lab