The Big City is Confusing for Birds

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So it turns out that birds are kind of country at heart. Who knew that these flying creatures prefer the wide-open spaces of nature to the hubbub of the big city? No New York City for these feathered little guys; they prefer the pastures of Kentucky and the scenic mountain ranges of Colorado. Who’d a thunk?

A recent study from the University of Oldenburg in Germany may not talk about the effect of skyscrapers on birds, but the team has found that the electromagnetic fields produced by electrical devices—and AM radio as it turns out—confuses the heck out of birds. Apparently it messes up their “internal compass,” and this internal compass gets more confused when birds fly over urban sites, you know, because everyone knows iPads need city water to grow.

I have a theory that if institutes of higher learning stopped blowing money on pretty frivolous experiments, they could lower tuition, thereby making education more accessible to more students. But I’m not here to debate the problems with modern collegiate education (that would be a book-length piece if ever there was one). Getting back to my original point: this study comes out of another goofy study that tracked the migration patterns of European robins. I wonder if they compared the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow with these robins? But I digress into the wacky world of “Monty Python.”

So, when Professor Henrik Mouritsen watched his unladen European robins migrate, he noticed strange patterns in their behavior. Now, to be fair, the professor ran the experiment for seven long (and presumably expensive) years before he felt that it was ready to be released to the public. From his studies, Professor Mouritsen found that birds exposed to between 50 kHz and 5 MHz of electromagnetic noise lost all sense of direction. So basically, for birds, low humming noise pollution is the equivalent of Google Maps having the wrong address for a location, which is a big deal. You’re driving all over town, completely lost, and probably ready to kill someone … if I knew what driving around with the wrong address in Google Maps was like. (Which, of course, I don’t. Anyway …)

The good news is that these little country-loving feathered friends have three different compasses that help them navigate the world around them, so it’s not a huge problem in all. And yes, you read that right: birds have a sun compass, a star compass and a magnetic compass, according to Professor Mouritsen, who looks forward to the study being put to use in figuring out radio field sensitivity in the future: probably for flying squirrels or deep-sea squid.

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Megan Winkler

Eco-nerd, solar power enthusiast, DIY diva and professional coffee drinker, Megan has written everything from courses in healthcare and psychology to interior design and cooking advice. She has a master’s degree in military history, owns two chainsaws, is a collector of strange trivia and a world renowned Pinterest pro. She is constantly looking for better ways to do things.

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