Scientists have long discovered that birds navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. But, this complex topic has not yet been clarified until a promising insight has been offered recently into it — The beaks of homing pigeons possess iron-containing structures helping them to react to the Earth’s external magnetic field in a very sensitive and specific manner.
Thanks to Gerta Fleissner and her colleagues at the University of Frankfurt for offering this promising insight. The skin lining the homing pigeons’ upper beak has sub-cellular particles of maghemite and magnetite containing iron. It is located in the sensory dendrites of the skin lining.
According to the research, the dendrites are arranged in a complex three-dimensional pattern, having different spatial orientation. These are designed so for analyzing the three components of the magnetic field vector separately. The dendrites react to the external magnetic field of the Earth in a very sensitive and specific manner, allowing it to act as a three-axis magnetometer.
Interestingly, the birds can sense the magnetic field without disturbing their motion and posture, thus identifying their geographical position, as the study suggests.