Monday, August 22, 2005

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Magnetic Fields
Chickens orient using a magnetic compass

In the new work, researchers including Rafael Freire from the University of New England (Australia), Wolfgang Wiltschko and Roswitha Wiltschko from the University of Frankfurt, Germany, and Ursula Munro from the University of Technology in Sydney, demonstrated for the first time that birds could be trained to respond to a magnetic direction. The researchers trained domestic chicks to find an object that was associated with imprinting and was behind one of four screens placed in the corners of a square apparatus, and, crucially, showed that the chicks' direction of movement during searching for the hidden imprinting stimulus was influenced by shifting the magnetic field.

One important difference between this work and earlier attempts to train birds is that the researchers used a social stimulus to train the birds, whereas most previous attempts have used food as the reward. The authors of the study hypothesize that in nature, birds do not use magnetic signals to find food, and tests involving such a response may be alien to them.

The work also shows that the ability to orient with magnetic cues is not only present in an ancient avian lineage dating back to the cretaceous period, but has also been retained in a nonmigrating bird after thousands of years of domestication.

Chickens orient using a magnetic compass


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