During the colder months numerous bird species travel thousands of miles to warm climates for more resources and a better chance of survival. Although scientists know why birds travel such vast distances, exactly how birds navigate was unknown until recently. There are three anatomical features which help guide a bird on its long journey; these include the eyes, ears, and beak.
Birds have their own internal global positioning system (GPS) and use visual landmarks, as well as the position of the Sun and stars, to follow the same pattern every year. Chemicals reacting between the brain and eyes aid in magnetic navigation and help a bird determine which direction is north. There are also tiny fragments of iron, a magnetic compound, located in a bird’s inner ear, and these help birds navigate using Earth’s magnetic field.
Some scientists believe a bird uses its beak to smell its way across migrating routes. The trigeminal nerve connects a bird’s beak to its brain and acts as an olfactory map; the bird can then detect its location by sensing the strength of Earth’s magnetic field. Earth’s magnetic field is stronger at the Poles and weakens near the Equator.
Migration in itself is an amazing feat that has amazed people for thousands of years, and it continues to amaze us once more as we better learn about birds’ capabilities and biology.
You can learn even more about migration, why birds migrate, and why the Florida Keys are so important to the fall migration of so many birds by visiting Mission Wild Bird (92080 Overseas Highway) today!
Heather Frechette, FKWBC Intern, 2016Share