A new research by a Frankfurt University team has successfully demonstrated that domestic fowl, like many other animals and birds, also use the Earth's magnetic field to sense direction.
As part of their experiment, the team of Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wiltschko and Roswitha Wiltschko placed newly hatched chicks in an artificial magnetic field, teaching them by intensive training that their mother was always behind the screen that was in the northerly direction.
The scientists then set up an artificial magnetic field in an easterly direction to test that the chickens sense this compass point by means of their magnetic sense of direction.
Findings revealed that the chickens did actually seek their mother behind the screen that lay to the east.
Further experiments revealed that the chickens' magnetic sensor functioned very similarly to that of the robin. They also reacted to the inclination and the local field strength of the Earth's magnetic field.
Dr. Wolfgang Wiltschko, who 40 years ago had first proved that migrating robins use the Earth's magnetic field to orient themselves during migration, believes that the magnetic sensor is probably situated in the eye, since the birds need short-wave light (such as blue light) to orientate themselves.
In long-wave light above the yellow level, this ability is lost in all the birds that have so far been tested, he said.
He further said a magnetic sense of direction could be a common ability to all birds.
The study, 'The magnetic compass of domestic chickens, Gallus gallus' appears in the Journal of Experimental Biology.