How young cuckoos find their winter grounds

Please find this interesting link to important work on Cuckoos done by Kasper Thorup and his team in Denmark.
They were able to tag and therefore track fledgling cuckoos.  This work is very important as the major question for us is, how does a fledgling cuckoo find its way to its wintering grounds in the Congo basin when clearly its parents have long since left, so there is no-one to guide them. Prof Thorup kindly said, “And, I am as confused as you are as to how the young cuckoos find their winter grounds!”
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Animal Navigation Model

Antonio Nafarrate, one of our associate editors has sent his latest thinking:
I am very interested in how so much of what he presents here fits with other pieces in our puzzle to understand how Animal Navigation might work
Richard Nissen

I have some new ideas that may connect my Animal Navigation Model with some of the Health problems experienced by some crew members in the International Space Station.

Gravity acts in living cells in two ways. First is in the way that is mathematically described as a Vector such as acting on a mass as in a Plumb Line where the mass in the Bob is pulled towards the instantaneous Center of the Earth along the local vertical. A spinning top also aligns with the local vertical as it precesses around it. A spinning top in this sense is equivalent to a Plumb Line.If a spinning top is mounted in a Cardanic suspension, three orthogonal axes of freedom with the center of mass located at the intersection of the three axes, it will act as a Gyroscope and after launch it will always point to the same direction in space.

A spinning top should be represented by a “pseudo” or “quasy” Vector because the sense of rotation is arbitrary as Clockwise or Counterclockwise or right or left handed.A spinning top remains pointing along the vertical because it receives torque from the rotation of the Earth. If it carried Eastwards or Westwards it will receive respectively more or less torque from the rotation of the Earth.

All living things that we know evolved to live on the surface of the Earth and several functions are Schuler tuned (Arnold Sommerfeld “Mechanics, Volume I Lectures on Theoretical Physics”} such as Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) and Cortisol release from the Supra-renal Glands conveniently located near the center of mass of all quadrupeds and bipeds.

The figure for Schuler tuning is given as 84.4 minutes but is calculated for the 24 hrs. Solar Day.

The Cortisol release is measured at periods of 87.4 minutes that is a better match for the Free Running period of the Circadian Clock that is closer to the 24 hour 52 minutes the period of the Lunar Day.

The Calcium losses in the Astronauts in spite of the exercises in the ISS (International Space Station) may go back to a gene from the mollusk Nautilus that has daily up and down migrations adds a new segment to the shell every day and a new chamber every Lunar Month.

As far as growing plants in the ISS it will help growing them in a platform stationary with respect of the initial pointing area in space of the growing shoots as soon as they emerge.

The old Cholodny-Wenn model defines the up or down direction but the “Line of action” is defined by the angular momentum of the ATP Synthase rotors in the tip of the growing shoot.

My Model of Animal Navigation applies to all species because all living cells exhibit Circadian Rhythms and Gravity is always available in the Biosphere not to mention way beyond it.

It is nice that in this case Nature has to solve the problem only once. My model has an elegant unifying power.

Note: In the Mitochondria in animals and the Chloroplasts of plants the rotor in ATP Synthase is pointing in all directions but it must be well oriented in some areas such as the Pineal gland in Birds, the Supra Chiasmatic Nucleous nerves in Mammals and the growing tips in plant shoots and roots to provide accurate pointing in the alignment with Gravity. 

Antonio Nafarrate.
February 2017
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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 ( 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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