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

Naturwissenschaften. 2005 Feb;92(2):86-90. doi: 10.1007/s00114-004-0595-8. Epub 2004 Dec 22.


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 microT 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 degrees 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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Europe
  • Germany
  • Magnetics*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Oscillometry
  • Seasons
  • Songbirds / physiology*