Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 148, Supplement 1, pp 61–76

Magnetoreception in birds: two receptors for two different tasks


DOI: 10.1007/s10336-007-0233-2

Cite this article as:
Wiltschko, W. & Wiltschko, R. J Ornithol (2007) 148(Suppl 1): 61. doi:10.1007/s10336-007-0233-2


Birds can use the geomagnetic field as a source of navigational information in different ways: the magnetic vector provides a compass; magnetic intensity and/or inclination play a role as a component of the navigational ‘map’, and magnetic conditions of certain regions act as ‘sign posts’ or triggers, eliciting specific responses. Two hypotheses on magnetoreception are currently under discussion. One proposes a chemical compass based on a radical pair mechanism involving direction-dependent reactions in specialized photopigments; the other postulates processes involving iron-rich particles, such as magnetite. Behavioral evidence suggests that birds use both mechanisms, with radical pair processes in the right eye providing directional information and an iron-based mechanism in the upper beak providing information on position as a component of the navigational ‘map’. Electrophysiological data support this view. The interactions of the two mechanisms, however, are still poorly understood.


Avian navigation Magnetic compass Magnetite Magnetoreception Radical pair model 

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.FB BiowissenschaftenJ.W.Goethe-Universität FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany

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