Lateralization of magnetic compass orientation in a migratory bird

Nature. 2002 Oct 3;419(6906):467-70. doi: 10.1038/nature00958.


Lateralization of brain functions, once believed to be a human characteristic, has now been found to be widespread among vertebrates. In birds, asymmetries of visual functions are well studied, with each hemisphere being specialized for different tasks. Here we report lateralized functions of the birds' visual system associated with magnetoperception, resulting in an extreme asymmetry of sensing the direction of the magnetic field. We found that captive migrants tested in cages with the magnetic field as the only available orientation cue were well oriented in their appropriate migratory direction when using their right eye only, but failed to show a significant directional preference when using their left eye. This implies that magnetoreception for compass orientation, assumed to take place in the eyes alongside the visual processes, is strongly lateralized, with a marked dominance of the right eye/left brain hemisphere.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Magnetics*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*