Watch: How do birds use Earth’s magnetic field?

Songbirds like European robins have a protein in their eyes that helps them navigate their migration using the earth’s magnetic field. Credit: Don Faulkner

A protein inside songbirds’ eyes makes them sensitive to magnetic fields, researchers have confirmed, which may play a role in how the animals navigate. Physicists have hypothesized since the 1970s that a light sensitive molecule in birds’ eyes helps them sense the earth’s magnetic field through quantum mechanics, the math that describes to process of atoms and electrons. But in 2021, scientists were able to put the idea to the test, measuring the protein in European robins’ (Erithacus rubecula) retinas. They showed that in birds that migrate like the robins, the proteins were more magnetically sensitive than birds that don’t migrate like chickens. They hope to study this on living animals in the future.

Read the article in Science News. Watch the video below.