Learned people have been trying to understand just how a bird is able to navigate thousands of miles with pinpoint accuracy for years. Theories (some have been proven) point to a variety of factors–stars, magnetic fields, visual cues, olfactory cues, etc.
Making the most recent news is a biophysicist named Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Seems Mr. Schulten proposed a hypothesis back in 1978 suspecting some sort of biochemical reaction took place in a bird’s eyes, turning it into a compass of sorts. That theory is being refined and updated.
The story (from Wired Science), or rather the description of the chemical process, is far beyond my ability to easily spell out here (or even understand). But it hints at the possiblitity of him being onto something here. Just don’t shout it from the mountain tops. Because researchers are tempering any excitement with words like:
“this is still not an experimental demonstration. It’s a possibility."
Last graph says,
As for the perceptual result of the compass, it remains a mystery. Some researchers think birds might see a dot at the edge of their vision, swiveling according to the direction they’re facing. Others think it might produce effects of color or hue, or some other type of perception. Perhaps migrating birds fly towards the light.
This is cool stuff. It would be fascinating to know just what the reality is. Just maybe this Schulten’s got it. I just wish I’d have paid more attention in my college organic chemistry class.
To read the entire news story click here.