Birds’ Magnetic Sense May Be Visual

Many animals have senses that humans lack. One that is poorly understood is that magnetic sense (magnetoception or magnetoreception) that birds and other animals have. A LiveScience article today details some new research suggesting that birds may actually “see” magnetic fields. They found that visual regions of the brain were active during magnetic navigation and that some possibly magnetically sensitive molecules were located in the retinas, the light-sensing membrane at the back of the eye. While this isn’t proof, it is certainly suggestive. It could be that these birds see some sort of magnetic imagery overlaid on their normal vision. Or perhaps they perceive the magnetic fields in a totally different way.

Birds can travel the world without any of the gizmos that humans depend on, and a new study suggests how: Our feathered friends might “see” Earth’s magnetic field.

While other mechanisms are thought to help birds navigate, including magnetically sensitive cells within their beaks, their brain regions responsible for vision are in full gear during magnetic navigation, researchers said.

See the LiveScience article for the rest.