Our co-editor Antonio Nafarrate has recently written these remarks 

Following the 2016 Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) Conference on “Animal Navigation”, Dr. Painter claims that after some 50 years of work, the Magnetic “mechanism is not fully understood”. In my judgment, it will never be, because there is no such mechanism. The Geomagnetic Field (GMF) is only a minor perturbation to the true navigational mechanism which is Inertial (as I wrote in a published paper in 1989).

I believe that the Circadian Clock and Gravity are only cues for all species that Home or Migrate. Gravity is accurately sensed by the internal rotor in the molecule of ATP Synthase that has the structure that I anticipated in my 1989 paper and described in Science some 3 years later by Sir John Walker FRS and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 1997.

The GMF is useless for Navigation because it continuously and unpredictably drifts. It is strongly affected by unpredictable Solar activity and has undergone many reversals with no traces of animal extinctions as the reversals cross through zero. Furthermore, many Migratory bird species perch on power lines and are not affected at all or only a minimal local influence.

Similar conclusions were reported by Dr. Gerhard Gries and his team (gries@sfu.ca) about the effects of the GMF in the Waggle dances of Bees. The GMF has no influence at all.

My 1989 paper is simply the extension and correct interpretation of some work initiated by Charles Darwin in his “Collected papers” and in the “Power of Movements in Plants’. Darwin did not know the correct mechanical terminology and “invented the word “Circumnutation” when he should have said “Precession”.

A spinning top works as a Plumb Line pointing always to the center of the Earth (aligned with the local vertical). It does not work as a Gyroscope because it is receiving torque from the rotation of the Earth at the rate of 15 degrees per hour. When a spinning top is carried East or West the rotation rate is accordingly accelerated positively or negatively to adjust for the change in Longitude.

Initially you measure Latitude by some molecular mechanism similar to a Foucault pendulum.

Antonio Nafarrate
12 December 2016

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Mathematical analysis of the homing flights of pigeons based on GPS tracks

Ingo Schiffner
At the RIN 11 Animal Navigation Conference Ingo Schiffner, presented a paper: Mathematical Analysis of Pigeon Tracks, characterisation of the underlying Navigational Process and now he has produced another paper covering Mathematical analysis of the homing fights of pigeons based on GPS tracks.  For me,  this work begins to create an underlying mathematical basis for the ideas that all navigation requires as much information as possible, from as many resources as are available at the time. Besides, the information required for navigation changes over the course of the journey.  Setting out in the right direction initially is wholly different from the information required nearing home.<<<


Pigeons are the masters of navigation, not only can they home with pinpoint accuracy, but they also have one of the most robust navigational systems. Today it is fairly well understood, that the pigeons navigational system is based on two components a map and a compass. While the compass is very well understood, i.e they have an innate magnetic compass and, as juveniles, learn to use the sun as a compass, we know very little about the components that make up their navbigational map. After all a compass is utterly usless without a map. In the course of the last century a great number of different navigational cues have been proposed as the sole navigational cue explaining why pigeons are capable of such extrordinary navigational prowess. These include cues such as visual cues (vision), olfactory information (smell), infrasound (hearing), but also cues which may seem a bit odd seen from a human perspective, such as magnetic cues and gravitational cues. While their is good evidence for any of these cues of some involvement of all of these cues, no single cue seems to be sufficient to explain it all. To test the involvement of these cues, scientists have gone to great lengths to deprive the birds of any of these cues. That means pigeons have been spun on disks to disturb their gravitational sense, had their nostrils anaesthetised to deprive them of olfactory information, had their beaks anaesthesised to deprive them of magnetic information, had to wear frosted lenses to deprive them of their sense of vision, just to name a few. One common result of all these experiments, however, was that the pigeons- in the end – managed to get home to their loft.

In the current study we revisited the idea of depriving pigeons of some of these cues, nameley their magnetic and olfactory sense and record their flightpaths using GPS recorders – technology that wasn’t available at the time when most of the original studies had been conducted –  and used state of the art analytical methods derived from dynamic systems theory to not just look at the flightpaths, but reconstruct the underlying navigational system, through the so called method of time lag embedding. This method then allowed us to calculate the short-term correlation dimension, a variable that reflects the degrees of freedom and thus the number of factors involved in the navigational system. While we were not able to show an involvement of the upper beak -as suggested earlier-  in magneto-sensing, we were, however, able to show that natural fluctuations in the earths magnetic field had an significant effect on the number of factors used for active navigation. Additionally we were able to show an significant involvement of olfactory factors in the navigational process as well, as well as interactions between olfactory and magnetic factors. All in all our data suggest an simultaneous involvement of magnetic cues and olfactory factors during the homing flight of pigeons and point to a robust, multi-factorial map that incorporates not just one but possibly many of the cues previously suggested to p[lay a role in pigeon navigation. With this knowledge the earlier findings, i.e. the very weak effects of any of the above mentioned deprivation experiments, don’t seem so damning anymore. If pigeons indeed rely on many of these factors they could work as independent layers of redundancy allowing the pigeons to voluntarily include or exclude factors from the navigational process and thus achive a robust system that is impervious to environmental changes.

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How do animals keep from getting lost?

Showcased at the Royal Institute of Navigation is this interesting piece on animal migration.

Maura O’Connor is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. Her first book is: “Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things,” from St. Martin’s Press. She is currently at work on a second book – an exploration of navigation traditions, neuroscience, and human relationships to space, time and memory.


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Cuckoo Migration

Cuckoo Migration is one of the great mysteries and to date there is still no agreement on how Cuckoos find their way to the Congo for the winter starting from different locations in Europe.
The team at Copenhagen University under Prof Kasper Thorup have been  able to tag fledgling cuckoos to follow their migration.  The link shows their results.  The British trust for Ornithology (BTO)  has been forbidden from tagging young birds as these are deemed too small to carry the extra load of a transmitter.  But you will see their results on older birds which seem similar to the fledglings.
See :
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Long-Distance Nocturnal Navigator

Warrant11 2016

Here is a fascinating paper about The Australian Bogong Moth Agrotis infusa: which is the most amazing  Long-Distance Nocturnal Navigator.  As they navigate at night their feat is perhaps even more amazing than the migration of the Monarch butterfly in the USA.

Richard Nissen

Warrant E, Frost B, Green K, Mouritsen H, Dreyer D, Adden A, Brauburger K and Heinze S (2016) The Australian Bogong Moth Agrotis infusa: A Long-Distance Nocturnal Navigator. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 10:77. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00077


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Annual Conference of Dowsers on Animal Navigation

In September 2015 I was asked to give a workshop at the Annual Conference of Dowsers on Animal Navigation.

Of course I talked about how animals, including birds, navigate and all the outstanding questions that remain on how they do it.

Those who came to my presentation were some of the best dowsers in the UK. I chose to use my presentation to see if these dowsers could use their dowsing skills to answer these outstanding questions on animal navigation.

Please note that map dowsing is a technique used by dowsers who use a map to focus their minds on something that they are looking for. All water diviners use map dowsing to find the general location of a water source so that when they arrive on site they can go directly to the right place and mark the exact place to drill.

My idea was to use these skills to see if these dowsers could find the routes of fledgling cuckoos. We cannot track fledglings using modern GPS or any other tracking devices attached to the fledglings as they are too young and not strong enough to carry the trackers.

Dowsers have the idea that all living animals, including humans, leave dowsable trails behind them. So dowsers can find paths or routes that have been travelled and embedded by many generations of travellers. A good dowser can follow a track just by feeling the way. You can track sheep walks in with no problems in zero visibility. So this piece of work was to see if good dowsers could find and follow cuckoo tracks.

The answer was they could and they did find and follow the tracks of cuckoos. Of the 17 participating all but one was able to do this work. Of the 16 who participated, and agreed they could tune into cuckoo flyways, all ended up in the Congo. It was never explained that this is the cuckoo wintering ground. All the tracks make sense. One person identified that the cuckoo he was tracking had died in the atlas mountains of Morocco. One person had their cuckoo coming down via the south of France and out over the Mediterranean Sea to the Congo and back up the west coast of Africa. All the routes dowsed match BTO adult tracked birds.

I have suggested that migratory animals have a sense of direction. By this I mean they know what direction to set out in. Many do not believe that a sense of direction exists. So the question to the dowsers was, “do you have a sense of direction and do you rely on it”

Of the 17 participants 15 said they had a sense of direction and used it and two did not.

I received 17 papers back from the participants

The document I used is reproduced below.


Use map dowsing to track the migration routes of the Cuckoo (starting in Britain), you may only find one 







Mark the map with your route.   I suggest that you think yourself into the mind of a fledgling cuckoo trying to find its wintering grounds. Start in England and trace the route that you pick up to the Cuckoos wintering grounds in Africa

Please note that there are several routes so there is no right answer. There seem to be stopping points and turning points so if you find some mark them

Below is the map that the dowsers were asked to use.

The picture of the cuckoo is to help the dowsers focus on what they were tracking fledgling cuckoos!

The map they used is shown below>







Below you can see three samples of the routes the dowsers traced out using map dowsing to follow the route of a fledgling cuckoo

All these routes seem to be viable to me


After looking for the cuckoo routes, they were asked if their Sense of Direction could take them home. By this I mean that they had confidence in the direction they should start off in from where they were in the conference centre in Leicester.

Of the 17:
14 said that they would have got home Ok
3 said that they were not sure.

Migration for animals has a high redundancy and a lot get killed or die on route. But typically clutches are say 6 so you can afford to loose a few. Hwever, this sort of score given by my dowsers gives me confidence that if we take away our modern navigation aids we can find our way. Obviously more work needs to be done but this does give an explanation of how animals might navigate.

You do not need to be too accurate when you set out but you must be accurate enough to get near enough your home to recognise landmarks so that you can orientate your self for the last bit. See much work on Hippocampus based navigation on the web site.

See http://animalnav.org/the-compass-within-sense-of-direction/

A group of experienced dowsers believed they had a sense of direction and with this they thought that they would set out for home in the correct direction so that they would arrive home safely.

These dowsers were able to tune into the cuckoos and dowse a route which correlates very well with the BTO studies of adult cuckoos. I did not tell them where the cuckoos winter!

See the links on www.animalnav.org


As we do not understand how dowsing works perhaps we should be more open minded about how animals navigate and investigate these phenomena.

Richard Nissen

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A complete overview of animal navigation 2015


This link is a very complete overview of the animal navigation at present in 2015.  It covers all the important work that has been done and discusses what has been found along with all the problems associated with different approaches.

As you will see it ends up by saying that we still do not know how animals navigate.  This is of course our stance at www.animalnav.org.

We are still fascinated by the fledgling cuckoo problem:  how do they inherit the instructions of how to get to their wintering grounds in the Congo?

Richard Nissen

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