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Published November 2003 | Published
Journal Article Open

Waved albatrosses can navigate with strong magnets attached to their head


The foraging excursions of waved albatrosses Phoebastria irrorata during incubation are ideally suited for navigational studies because they navigate between their Galápagos breeding site and one specific foraging site in the upwelling zone of Peru along highly predictable, straight-line routes. We used satellite telemetry to follow free-flying albatrosses after manipulating magnetic orientation cues by attaching magnets to strategic places on the birds' heads. All experimental, sham-manipulated and control birds, were able to navigate back and forth from Galápagos to their normal foraging sites at the Peruvian coast over 1000 km away. Birds subjected to the three treatments did not differ in the routes flown or in the duration and speed of the trips. The interpretations and implications of this result depend on which of the current suggested magnetic sensory mechanisms is actually being used by the birds.

Additional Information

© 2003 The Company of Biologists Ltd. Accepted 6 August 2003. We thank Dana R. Wood for field assistance, the Galápagos National Park Service for permission to work in the Park, the Charles Darwin Research Station and TAME airline for logistical support, and Sharon David and Rick Eves for preparing the magnets and shams and for logistical support. Funding was provided by the US National Science Foundation (grant DEB 9629539 to D.J.A.), the Carlsberg Foundation (to H.M.), the VolkswagenStiftung ('Nachwuchgruppen' Grant to H.M.), and by a CIAR Fellowship, NSERC and Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (NCE) grants to B.J.F.

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August 22, 2023
October 24, 2023