Orientation in the wandering albatross: interfering with magnetic perception does not affect orientation performance

Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Mar 7;272(1562):489-95. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2984.


After making foraging flights of several thousands of kilometers, wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) are able to pinpoint a specific remote island where their nests are located. This impressive navigation ability is highly precise but its nature is mysterious. Here we examined whether albatrosses rely on the perception of the Earth's magnetic field to accomplish this task. We disturbed the perception of the magnetic field using mobile magnets glued to the head of nine albatrosses and compared their performances with those of 11 control birds. We then used satellite telemetry to monitor their behavior. We found that the ability of birds to home specific nest sites was unimpaired by this manipulation. In particular, experimental and control birds did not show significant differences with respect to either foraging trip duration, or length, or with respect to homing straightness index. Our data suggest that wandering albatrosses do not require magnetic cues to navigate back to their nesting birds.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Homing Behavior / physiology*
  • Indian Ocean Islands
  • Magnetics*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Telemetry