A physicochemical mechanism for magnetic field detection by migratory birds and homing pigeons

Nature. 1977 May 12;267(5607):144-5. doi: 10.1038/267144a0.


Migratory birds and homing pigeons can apparently obtain directional information from the Earth's magnetic field. The effect is difficult to detect, and discussion of the possible process of magnetic field detection by birds seems so far to have foundered on the simple fact that the orientational effect of the Earth's magnetic field on a single electron spin associated with a molecule of animal tissue would be of the order 10(-8) eV--almost certainly too small to be detectable biologically. Here I direct attention to a process which would overcome this basic problem, and which also seems to provide an explanation of all the main features of published data. It is a mechanism in principle only, however, and is discussed here in no more detail than is necessary to clarify the basic ideas and to provide a basis for further investigation.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Columbidae / physiology*
  • Homing Behavior / physiology*
  • Magnetics*
  • Models, Biological