, Volume 92, Issue 2, pp 86–90 | Cite as

Magnetic compass orientation of migratory birds in the presence of a 1.315 MHz oscillating field

  • Peter Thalau
  • Thorsten Ritz
  • Katrin Stapput
  • Roswitha Wiltschko
  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
Short Communication


The radical pair model of magnetoreception predicts that magnetic compass orientation can be disrupted by high frequency magnetic fields in the Megahertz range. European robins, Erithacus rubecula, were tested under monochromatic 565 nm green light in 1.315 MHz fields of 0.48 μT during spring and autumn migration, with 1.315 MHz being the frequency that matches the energetic splitting induced by the local geomagnetic field. The birds’ responses depended on the alignment of the oscillating field with respect to the static geomagnetic field: when the 1.315 MHz field was aligned parallel with the field lines, birds significantly preferred northerly directions in spring and southerly directions in autumn. These preferences reflect normal migratory orientation, with the variance slightly increased compared to control tests in the geomagnetic field alone or to tests in a 7.0 MHz field. However, in the 1.315 MHz field aligned at a 24° angle to the field lines, the birds were disoriented in both seasons, indicating that the high frequency field interfered with magnetoreception. These finding are in agreement with theoretical predictions and support the assumption of a radical-pair mechanism underlying the processes mediating magnetic compass information in birds.


Test Cage Magnetic Compass Radical Pair Mechanism Erithacus Rubecula Coil Antenna 
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Our work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (W.W.) and by the Fetzer Institute (T.R.). We gratefully acknowledge the technical support of the T-Systems, Germany, especially of H. Küpper, T. Loppnow and B. Marx, and we thank F. Galera, S. Hilmer, C. Koschella and S. Münzner for their valuable help with bird keeping and conducting the experiments


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Thalau
    • 1
  • Thorsten Ritz
    • 2
  • Katrin Stapput
    • 1
  • Roswitha Wiltschko
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
    • 1
  1. 1.Zoologisches InstitutJ.W.Goethe-Universität FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Department of Physics and AstronomyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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