Letter | Published:

Calibration of the magnetic compass of a migratory bird by celestial rotation

Nature volume 347, pages 378380 (27 September 1990) | Download Citation

Subjects

Abstract

MIGRATORY birds use a variety of environmental stimuli in orientation. Species that migrate primarily at night can use compasses based on the geomagnetic field, stars, the Sun and patterns of skylight polarization1–4. These compass mechanisms can interact both when migratory birds make day-to-day orientation decisions5 and during their ontogeny in young birds6,7. All of the known compasses used by migratory birds seem to be modifiable by experience during early development. For example, a functional magnetic compass develops in birds that have never seen the sky8–11. But the preferred direction of orientation by the magnetic compass may be modified during the first three months of life by exposing naive birds to the sky under conditions in which magnetic directions differ substantially from compass directions indicated by the Sun and stars (true or geographic directions)6,9,10. For hand-raised Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), experience with either the clear daytime or night sky is sufficient to effect this calibration of the magnetic compass11. We therefore proposed that celestial rotation, which provides a source of geographic directions both day and night, is the calibrating reference. Here we report that the rotation of an artificial pattern of 'stars' calibrates the preferred direction of magnetic orientation of young Savannah sparrows.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    Comp. Biochem. Physiol. 76A 709–717 (1983).

  2. 2.

    Bird Navigation: The Solution of a Mystery? (Holmes & Meier, London, 1984).

  3. 3.

    & in Migration: Mechanisms and Adaptive Significance (ed. Rankin, M. A.) 516–525 (Marine Sci. Inst. Univ. Texas, Port Aransas, 1985).

  4. 4.

    Biol. Rev. 62, 65–86 (1987).

  5. 5.

    & Trends Ecol. Evol. 3, 13–15 (1988).

  6. 6.

    & Q. Rev. Biol. 62, 1–29 (1987).

  7. 7.

    Experientia 46, 388–394 (1990).

  8. 8.

    & Naturwissenschaften 61, 406 (1974).

  9. 9.

    Behaviour 87, 43–53 (1983).

  10. 10.

    , & in Migration: Mechanisms and Adaptive Significance (ed. Rankin, M. A.) 544–552 (Marine Sci. Inst., Univ. Texas, Port Aransas, 1985).

  11. 11.

    & Anim. Behav. 39, 905 (1990).

  12. 12.

    Anim. Behav. 29, 962–963 (1981).

  13. 13.

    Anim. Behav. 28, 684–704 (1980).

  14. 14.

    Anim. Behav. 33, 657–663 (1985).

  15. 15.

    & Anim. Behav. 39, 1189 (1990).

  16. 16.

    & J. comp. Physiol. A109, 91–99 (1976).

  17. 17.

    & Auk 83, 361–367 (1966).

  18. 18.

    Science 170, 1198–1201 (1970).

  19. 19.

    , , & Ethology 74, 285–292 (1987).

  20. 20.

    Circular Statistics in Biology (Academic, New York, 1981).

  21. 21.

    & Auk 103, 225–227 (1986).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York at Albany, New York 12222, USA

    • Kenneth P. Able
    •  & Mary A. Able

Authors

  1. Search for Kenneth P. Able in:

  2. Search for Mary A. Able in:

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/347378a0

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.