In ancient days, it was believed that Providence guided the birds on their long migration flights.However, the science of how birds know where to fly is much more complex than that.
Birds rely on a wide range of methods to help them keep directions. They use instinct, landmarks and smells… but more so the sun, stars, and the Earth’s magnetic field. Multiple methods are needed, as changing terrain and weather patterns during migration often compel which method is used.
On a clear day, the sun is the most obvious compass. Its movement across the sky is compensated for by the bird’s internal time clock.
The night sky
Many species of birds migrate at night in an effort to conserve water and to avoid predators. The focus in the night sky is the North Star and the constellations around it. From this fixed marker, birds are able to find their migration heading.
The magnetic north
Finally, when all visual cues are hidden, birds tune into magnetic north. Small crystals of magnetite situated above the nostrils give birds this ability, acting like a compass in their nose.
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