Birds can navigate accurately over hundreds to thousands of kilometres, and this ability of homing pigeons is the basis for a worldwide sport. Compass senses orient avian flight, but how birds determine their location in order to select the correct homeward bearing (map sense) remains a mystery. Also mysterious are rare disruptions of pigeon races in which most birds are substantially delayed and large numbers are lost. Here, it is shown that in four recent pigeon races in Europe and the northeastern USA the birds encountered infrasonic (low-frequency acoustic) shock waves from the Concorde supersonic transport. An acoustic avian map is proposed that consists of infrasonic cues radiated from steep-sided topographic features; the source of these signals is microseisms continuously generated by interfering oceanic waves. Atmospheric processes affecting these infrasonic map cues can explain perplexing experimental results from pigeon releases.
- © 2000 by Company of Biologists