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Bird's-Eye View May Include Magnetic Fields 86

Posted by Zonk
from the need-that-addon-for-tom-tom dept.
BoredStiff writes "Heard on NPR and reported in ScienceDaily: a study finding that migratory birds may be able to 'see' magnetic fields. The report comes from a current study by a research group from Oldenburg, Germany. They found that migratory birds use their visual system to perceive the reference compass direction of the geomagnetic field: 'Sensory systems process their particular stimuli along specific brain circuits. Thus, the identification of what sensory system is active during magnetic compass orientation, provides a way to recognize the sensory quality utilized during that specific behavior.'"
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Bird's-Eye View May Include Magnetic Fields

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:10PM (#20790951)
    Check this hack out: http://www.hackaday.com/2007/09/18/haptic-radar-electronic-whiskers/ [hackaday.com]
    Hardware hack that lets you sense your surroundings.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by zeptobyte (1140111)
      You understand, of course, that I very well may have to kill you for so grossly misusing the word hack, right?
    • by scbysnx (837275)
      being able to sense magnetic fields isn't exactly the same thing as having goofy IR sensors attached to your head but.. still pretty bad freakin ass
  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@l y n x . b c .ca> on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:11PM (#20790955) Journal
    What happens if the magnet field flips, or drops completely for few millenia, as is speculated has happened before and will likely happen again?
  • by User 956 (568564) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:14PM (#20790965) Homepage
    Heard on NPR and reported in ScienceDaily: a study finding that migratory birds may be able to 'see' magnetic fields.

    How else do you think they're able to so accurately target your new car?
  • I remember seeing a documentary that mentioned this at least 10 years ago.
    • by nmb3000 (741169)
      I remember seeing a documentary that mentioned this at least 10 years ago.

      Actually, The Core [wikipedia.org] came out in 2003.
    • by srmalloy (263556)

      I remember seeing a documentary that mentioned this at least 10 years ago.

      Yes, indeed. A Magnetite Null Detector as the Migrating Bird's Compass , D. T. Edmonds, Proceedings: Biological Sciences, Vol. 249, No. 1324 (Jul. 22, 1992), pp. 27-31
  • by rde (17364) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:23PM (#20790997)
    I'm a bit bemused by this whole concept, and the article doesn't really help ("Neuronal tracing reveals that Cluster N receives input through the thalamofugal visual pathway.")

    Assuming the nerds in question are right (and I've not reason to think they're not), the whole 'seeing a geomagnetic field' thing is wrecking my head. We're all familiar with the shape of the Earth's magnetic field, and it's easy to envision a series of lines spreading out from the poles. However, given that the poles are due for a reversal, it's been assumed by people worldwide who know about such things that this means doom for most migratory birds. If they can see the field lines, though, this may not be the case. Rather, it's the time leading up to the reversal that'll be the problem, as the lines get ever more chaotic. Once the flip happens, presumably all will be well again.

    Given that the poles have flipped many times in the past, and there've been major (if not mass) extinctions associated with at least some of them, the implication (to me) is that if there are fossils embedded in rocks with the polarity reversed then the two were simultaneous, and that some mechanism other than sight was used for sensing the fields.

    Of course, this all assumes that a) I know what the hell I'm talking about, b) there's only one mechanism for detecting the field and c) the field looks the same from either pole.
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:31PM (#20791031)
      I'm not arguing with you, but perhaps you should do what I'm about to do.

      Have another drink.
    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:36PM (#20791043) Journal

      the implication (to me) is that if there are fossils embedded in rocks with the polarity reversed then the two were simultaneous, and that some mechanism other than sight was used for sensing the fields.
      these flips happen every 100,000-200,000 years or so which is virtually nothing on the geological scale, species can survive for millions of years so there's a fair chance they could start dying out around the time of a flip, that doesn't really mean that the field was causing an extinction unless there is some pretty convincing evidence to go along with it. this can be tested and I would bet they already have tried this, but we could expose the birds to a magnetic field and vary it according to what we think flips are like and see what happens.
    • by EonBlueApocalypse (1029220) on Friday September 28, 2007 @11:36PM (#20791293)
      I think if you were actually able to see the planets magnetic field that it wouldn't actually be represented in solid lines. I'd guess it would be hues of color where the field is strongest that are perceived, then anything else. I say this because what we see as color is just wave lengths of light being interpreted by our brains and I have yet to read anything that says vision and the colors involved can only be interpreted by the brain threw certain frequencies of light or sound. Anyways any species who has not evolved a back up plan like using the position of the sun, then some species may die out, but then again those aren't very successful if they a yet unable to cope with seemingly normal planetary changes.
      • I know I'm a bit late in replying to this, but I'm getting caught up on my /. from the weekend :) Just because we interpret varying wavelengths of light as colors doesn't necessarily mean that magnetic fields would be interpreted this way also... It all depends on the sensory input processing the brain uses for that particular sense... While ours interpret light wavelengths as colors obviously, some animals don't interpret colors at all, although greyscale could be argued as color variations... However, lea
    • what else would change when Earth's magnetic poles change?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      If they can see the field lines, though, this may not be the case.

      This is quite unlikely, given that there are no such things as magnetic field lines.

    • ". However, given that the poles are due for a reversal, it's been assumed by people worldwide who know about such things that this means doom for most migratory birds."

      The magnetic fields are not the only thing birds use to navigate. I wish the articles would not make it look like the only universally relied upon function to navigate.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by maxume (22995)
      When I become a scientist, I am going to make up words like thalamofugal.
    • by mikael (484)
      The bird's retina is curved like a parabolic dish. The magnetic field lines would be like a whole bunch of straight lines going through space. Depending upon the angle that the field lines make with each cell, a different response would be given. If you were to visualise this, it would probably look like the Sun seen through thin clouds - a fuzzy point of light surrounded by a halo.

      That's not to say that it may actually be perceived as something visible by the birds. If you walk past a heat lamp that is on,
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      They can't see fields like that. To map a magnetic field you have to move to different points within it.

      This would be more like seeing the direction of the field at the bird's particular location. Something equivalent to having a heads up compass display in an airplane.
    • by tsm_sf (545316)
      However, given that the poles are due for a reversal

      There's no way to tell when the next reversal will come along. We're certainly not 'due' for one.

      ((if a reversal happens when I post this, that would simply be irony. It wouldn't mean I'm wrong!))
  • the brain is very flexible, if one part is damaged another takes over, it could be that these birds evolved to utilize the extra processing power of their brains that work with light vision in a similar way. rather than evolve an entirely new region of the brain solely involved in the processing of this magnetic field sese, they use what they already have- an evolutionary macguyver in a way.
    • the brain is very flexible, if one part is damaged another takes over, it could be that these birds evolved to utilize the extra processing power of their brains that work with light vision in a similar way. rather than evolve an entirely new region of the brain solely involved in the processing of this magnetic field sese, they use what they already have- an evolutionary macguyver in a way.

      While I have not done enough reading to say with conviction, it nonetheless would seem to me that magnetic sensing may
      • While I have not done enough reading to say with conviction, it nonetheless would seem to me that magnetic sensing may well be older than photo sensitivity. Microbes were absorbing iron long before they got together to collectively form creatures with eyes.

        If life started as photosynthetic, they were seeking sunlight before they were seeking iron. But if it started in hydrothermal vents, you're probably right.

  • by penguin_dance (536599) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:26PM (#20791009)
    They can see magnetic fields...

    But they keep getting whacked by windmills....

    Uh, okay.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by Jarjarthejedi (996957)
      And jets, don't forget those giant pieces of metal in the sky...perhaps this means the new 787 won't get hit because it's not metal or something...I don't really know, I mean, it's got birds seeing magnetic fields...what meme fits that?

      1. See Magnetic Fields
      2. Migrate
      3. ???
      4. Profit
      This of a Beowolf Cluster of these.
      Do they run Linux?
      In Soviet Russia, Magnetic Field sees birds!

      None really work...what are we to do?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Plutonite (999141)
      Let's just say they're single-threaded. It takes time to do electromagnetic integrals in your head while flapping your wings ya know. No wonder they shit so much.
    • Hmm, got to put some bar magnets on the windmil blades...
    • by GTMoogle (968547)
      With the acknowledgment that this wasn't asking for a serious response, I think that the birds tend to worry most about things that are relatively close and moving no faster than themselves. When you have a blade with a high tip velocity, the birds probably don't see it coming. Modern windmills have lower velocities relative to wind speed and kill far fewer birds.
  • Bats (Score:4, Funny)

    by jeffkjo1 (663413) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:46PM (#20791087) Homepage
    And you thought it was cool to confuse bats by tossing stuff in the air, now I can crank up the magnetron when the canada geese fly overhead and throw them off so they settle for the winter in Iowa.

    You crapped on my car for the last time birds.
    • If anything, cranking up your magnetron might make you - and your car - a navigational waypoint.

      I used to work at an airfield in Scotland, and we had two navigation beacons at opposite ends of the main runway, so about 900m apart. It was fascinating to watch flocks of Canada geese track directly overhead one or the other before setting a new course. (Of course, the bastards would always do this at circuit height...)

      We used to joke about the birds having a different avionics fit - but maybe some lead birds j
    • yeah, and if the magnetron is strong enough you can have a tasty roasted goose afterwards.
  • That's a feature that comes standard on any showroom model shark.
    • that's how they aim their lasers....anyway bacteria use iron magnetite to navigate and sense direction too.
      and to the other dude like waaaaay up there yeah, this is super old news and it has in fact been posted on slashdot before a year or two ago.
  • by mpthompson (457482) on Friday September 28, 2007 @10:49PM (#20791111)
    ... that migratory birds have a heads-up navigation display. Who would have thought?
  • Pshhhh... (Score:2, Funny)

    by callinyouin (1138469)
    Who gives a shit about being able to see magnetic fields? My eyes have x-ray vision. http://www.spy.th.com/goggles.html [th.com]
  • by Fyz (581804)
    I dare you to argue that any other organ in the bird could possibly house the sense of geomagnetism that it obviously has.
    • What about the inner ear? I'm not sure how all that stuff works (I'm a programmer, not a biologist), but since that handles balance and such, it seems relatively safe to assume that magnetism might also be picked up by the inner ear.

      Some humans also have good direction sense. Mine isn't so hot, but when on good days when I can actually navigate off of it, I certainly don't notice anything in my sight. More just that I manage to accurately assess any rotations I make relative to a base heading I managed t
    • I dare you to argue that any other organ in the bird could possibly house the sense of geomagnetism that it obviously has.

      OMFG ! You dare us !

      Well, just to show you I'm not scared, here's a description of where you find the magnetic sense in a pigeon. Up its nose. [washington.edu]

  • Watch out Magneto, the birds are coming and they will find you...
    They can see you,
    There is no use in hiding.
    If you read this beware!
  • Or maybe their next experiment should involve sticking tiny magnets to a bird's head that isn't also a bird that flocks. Or do all birds flock. I'm not a birdologist.
  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @12:06AM (#20791409)

    noshitsherlock

    Really? noshitsherlock... I suppose all of you just knew that birds were able to "see" magnetic fields. That's really impressive, I can't believe how smart you are, that you had this knowledge in the back of your brain like I've got the switches to ls memorized. Thank you so much for demonstrating your superior knowledge in the form of a slashdot story tag, that's really cool. Much better than publishing your findings in a science journal, you decided to save them up and use them in a condescending manner on a technology blog. Way to go... I guess when the article stated, "surprisingly little is known about the neuronal substrates underlying these navigational abilities" it actually meant, "a few slashdot readers know exactly how the neuronal substrates work, but won't tell anyone." Anyway, I'd just like to applaud your contributions to humanity.

  • I saw the magnetic fields once, too -- and they didn't even play anything off 69 Love Songs like I was hoping.
  • by o'reor (581921) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @03:39AM (#20792097) Journal
    There are older articles about this. For example, it's very important for a bird to pack up energy before crossing seas or deserts during their migration. But how do they guess when it's time for them to eat ? That's when their magnetic sense comes in handy :

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_18_160/ai_80344966 [findarticles.com] Well, imagine the applications that this might have on poultry farming : apply the correct magnetic field over the coop and your ducks or hens start overfeeding uncontrollably...

  • There's a bird that migrates pole-to-pole; the Arctic Tern. Some folks at Ann Arbor were trying to figure out how, despite messing with the optics and (somehow) the magnetics, this bird flies over so much 'enjoyable' land with lots of food and warmth to continue on to the poles, where many of them are eaten by the animals there, and then return to the other.

    They tried defeating the magnetics; it didn't help. They put contacts in the eyes of birds hatched as eggs in Ann Arbor; didn't matter. I don't know how
  • I think it was a long known fact, i've seen on TV 10+ years before, maybe in Attenborough's Birds series.
  • Most studies on this sort of phenomena have yet to find any good evidence that birds can sense magnetic fields. On the contrary, one good study actually showed that instead of using their "sense" of direction, migratory birds actually followed landmarks like major highways!
  • I've always wondered why birds align themselves on power lines. I've assumed the magnetic field gives them a buzz or warms them or something. But maybe it just makes the view prettier, like watching a nice sunset.

    Being able to fly, they may be evolved to expect the sky to have that visual effect all the time, and perhaps find it humdrum. But perhaps seeing it happen near the ground is like we who were evolved to live on the ground seeing the Northern Lights or a comet--natural sensations coming from u

    • Birds can't enjoy anything, because they are unfeeling automatons with no self-awareness.

      That's why it's okay to eat them.

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