Fly by the stars

Songbirds use the stars to navigate

source: Hazel Muir
New Scientist February 9 2002 p16

Researchers from Odense University in Denmark have found that songbirds use the stars to navigate. They used 20 blackcaps and 34 pied flycatchers, and took them to a planetarium in Aarhus. Migratory songbirds which travel during the night have a habit of jumping in their cages towards the direction that they usually migrate in. The birds were first placed under a simulation of the sky they would see in Aarhus, using the Pole star’s true direction as a pivot for the rotation of the stars, and the birds jumped in the direction of their normal route, which was south-south westerly. The stars were then turned around towards the south, and the birds responded by changing their jumping direction to north east, so they do find north from the stars. The birds jumped south if no rotation was shown, however, so they may locate the Pole star from patterns that are formed by the stars, not by the rotation of the stars. The birds did not appear to be able to use the stars to judge longitude.