Bird Beak Superpowers Measure the Earth's Magnetic Field

Illustration for article titled Bird Beak Superpowers Measure the Earth's Magnetic Field

So, that's another one the birds have on us. In addition to flight and colorful plumage, they're also equipped with magnetometer beaks that can sense magnetic fields and use them as a map. Yes, even chickens.

Here's how it works. The upper beak of birds has nerve branches that contain iron, which may be used to measure the intensity and inclination of Earth's magnetic field:

More than about 500 dendrites in the periphery encode the magnetic field information, which is composed in the central nervous system to a magnetic map. It obviously does not matter, whether birds use this magnetic map for their long distance orientation or do not – the equipment can be found in migratory birds, like robin and garden warbler, and well as in domestic chicken. "This finding is astonishing, as the birds studied have a different life styles and must fulfil diverse orientational tasks: Homing pigeons, trained to return from different release sites to their homeloft, short-distance migrants like robins, long-distance migratory birds like garden warblers and also extreme residents like domestic chicken", explains Gerta Fleissner.


That's right: even Chicken Little has a built-in magnetometer. I get it, birds. You win. Me and my lame opposable thumbs are just gonna sulk off into the distance. But I'm not saying where, now that I know you'd be able to find me. [Eureka Alert via Boing Boing]

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But can they use Google Streetview? I don't think so