Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 197, Issue 7, pp 765–772 | Cite as

Temporal fluctuations of the geomagnetic field affect pigeons’ entire homing flight

  • Ingo Schiffner
  • Roswitha WiltschkoEmail author
Original Paper


Tracks of pigeons, recorded with the help of GPS-receivers from two sites 30 km north and south of the Frankfurt loft, were analyzed in view of an influence of irregular fluctuations of the geomagnetic field. The data obtained were correlated with indices characterizing different aspects of these fluctuations. We found the best correlations with the index quantifying the average amplitude of the magnetic disturbance, and with an index that quantifies the average variability of the magnetic field on the day of release: stronger and more variable fluctuations lead to a counter-clockwise shift of the mean headings during the initial phase at the release site and the following departure phase, but not during the final homing phase leading to the loft. The steadiness of flight was not affected during the initial phase; however, during the later parts of the homing flight, stronger fluctuations, as well as higher variability in the magnetic field led to a marked decrease in steadiness. This continuing effect of magnetic fluctuations indicates that magnetic factors not only affect the beginning, but remain an integral part of the pigeons’ navigational processes during the entire homing flight.


Pigeon navigation Magnetic field Temporal fluctuations GPS-recorded tracks Columba livia f. domestica 



Our work was supported by Human Frontier Science Program (grant to RW) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grants to RW). We sincerely thank S. Denzau, B. Fischer, P. Fuhrmann, S. Gass, D. Gehring, S. Henneböhl, K. Jakobi, H. Leps and C. Nießner for their valuablehelp with recording the tracks. Our study was performed in agreement with the rules and regulations for animal protection in Germany.

Supplementary material

359_2011_640_MOESM1_ESM.doc (552 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 552 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fachbereich Biowissenschaften der J.W.Goethe-Universität FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany

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