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Bird Talk Magazine


5 Interview with Professor Niao Zhi Dao

7 Article 1: Navigation of Birds— Solving a mystery
15 Article 2: Orientation of Birds—Astronomical compasses
25 Migration Patterns of Birds
27 Hazards of Bird Migration
28 Do You Know?
30 Birdie’s Jokes
34 References

Bird Talk Magazine

From the editor

Welcome Back to another issue of Bird Talk. Bird Talk had been the soaring high . And
when I say SOAR.. I mean it. Because we have hit the highest readership by 25%.

To reward our readers, our theme of this month is Navigation and Orientation of
Birds. Since the early ages, people had probably been aware of the seasonal migration of
birds. However, how do migrating birds navigate so successfully over long distances and
returned to the same nesting site year after year without a compass? Certainly, some de-
gree of navigation and orientation skills are required to get around the ‘neighborhood’ to
look for food and not to mention the long-distance-migration.

There are experiments that showed that birds have such ‘natural’ sense of direction
based on the environmental cues. So is it true that birds can get to their destination even
when they are blind folded? To find out, Read our articles on (...fill up thi space with the
title of the article and page number,)

And lastly of course, enjoy yourself with our Birdie’s jokes and many more light
hearted articles, which we hope will give you hours of laughter even after reading it. Take
Flight and enjoy..

Yours sincerely ,
Bird Watcher

OCTOBER 2005 3

Dear Readers,
We enjoy reading your letters with all those interesting
comments and suggestions. Continue sending us your
letters and you may stand a chance to win fabulous prizes.

● Dear editor
● Dear Editor
I’m a keen reader of your magazine. I
I have just one ques-
feel that this magazine is well written
tion! How do you keep
and it feature interesting facts and news.
your magazine such a
I expecially like the “ Birdie’s jokes”
wonderful magazine
Thank you for making us bird lovers en-
that even my cat had
joy reading such a well groom maga-
to purr at the front
cover of last month
Fannatic Reader magazine. I love it, my
Dad love it, my cat
love it. Everyone ex-
● Dear editor cept my mum love it..
My Boyfriend has been wondering why Although I think she is
I am reading your magazine day after secretly reading it…
day… and never get tired of it. And one Thanks for making us
day during his off day, he tried reading bird LOVERS!
it. And now he is trying to snatch from Bird Lover
me last month’s issue so that he can
laugh at your jokes. He and I will always
support your magazine. High five to all
the editors and reporters.
● Dear Editor
Little Smithie
Words can’t really ex-
press my exhilaration
● Dear Editor when I saw your cover
last month. The cover
Where do you get all your PICTURES
even attracted my little
of Birds? Is there a website for your
niece to pick up the
magazine. I’m currently collecting pic-
magazine and start to
tures of Birds for my research and
google at the wonderful
your pictures are the perfect source. I
photos you have un your
have browse through many maga-
magazine. Continue with
zines but yours are the BEST.
the good Work!
Satisfied Reader 4
Photograph fanatic
InTeRvIew with the expert
Guest : Dr do! direction they want to fly
Niao Zhi toward.
Dao, an
Wow, I didn’t know that
Dr Niao: Ha ha Gotcha! Birds have such inbuilt
What do you think Birds mechanism in them. But
are! They are one of the do all birds migrate or is
highly intelligent verte- it only a handful that mi-
Many of us do know that brates in the world, and grates during winter?
some birds migrate. They of course they will have
can do so by using navi- very good reasons for Dr Niao: NO no no… not
gational skills that is un- migrating. Its for all birds migrate.. Do
seen in humans. But do Surivial… food …and to you see Ostriches run-
you know that the dis- escape the hard and cold ning toward south pole
tance they had to travel weather during winter. or north pole! Those A Robin Red-
can reach up to 1000km! Birds migrate because who migrate are using
Who are these birds? breast in a
they figure out that they those that stay in the re-
How are they able to fly need to. It's been shown gions with distinct sea- cage
such long distances? In that, at least in some sonal changes. During Puts all
this interview, we manage birds, changes in day winter, the northern
to invite Dr. Niao Zhi length cause glands in hemisphere birds travel Heaven in a
Dao , an ornithologist, to the birds' bodies to pro- to the warmer regions Rage.
answer our questions so duce hormones that pro- and some even into
that after reading this you duce profound changes Southern hemisphere,
may continue to read the inside the birds, changes and back again during
rest of the magazine with that prepare them for the spring. The birds in the ~William
a clearer picture of these flight south. In the fall, as Southern hemisphere
feathery animals. days grow shorter, fat also migrate but very Blake, Augu-
accumulates under the few birds from the ries of Ino-
skin. This fat contains Southern hemisphere
Hi, Dr. Niao, thank you energy needed for those travel into the northern cence
for taking your time to coming days when the hemisphere during win-
attend this interview. birds will be spending ter except the sea birds
Let’s get straight down to more energy flying than perhaps.
business. Why in the first they'll be eating during
place do birds migrate? their occasional rests. So the migratory birds
Weather changes some- all travel toward the
Dr. Niao: First thing first, times trigger a migra- Tropics region for warm
thanks for inviting me. ! tion's start, but by then and food…
Birds are the ancient mi- the birds are already pre-
grants! They have been pared. The urge to mi- Dr Niao: (interrupting)
migrating since the evolu- grate must be very pow- …NO not all… although
tion of feathers animals. erful. Starlings caged as regions closer to the
The main and foremost their migration time ap- equator are warmer and
reason that migratory proaches become ex- hence more favourable,
birds such as bar-tailed tremely fidgety and point but still there are some
godwit migrate is because their bodies in the birds who prefer to
they got nothing better to travel to somewhere 5
closer to their homeland
but are relatively
has more food than their hollow bones to reduce Dr Niao: Ha ha.. they are
the amount of energy not those boastful animals
necessary to become and la.. but birds such as
remain airborne. Do you songbirds can fly as high
know that they have well as 6800 meters while
developed pectoral mus- swans can fly even higher
cles too? These are at- at 8000m. The Bar
tached to a uniquely headed Geese had been
avian structure called the recorded to fly above the
furculum and it help by Himalayas at 29 000 feet!
powering the flapping You may think birds just
motions of the wings. The want to get into the Guin-
homeland in Winter. long feathers of the wings ness book of records, but
Oh.. they are quite lazy also act as airfoils which actually they have to fly
huh..(Both laugh) But help generate the lift nec- this high to reach their
how do you explain why essary for flight! destinations efficiently.
some birds go North for From radar studies, sci-
the summer and come So… entists know that birds
back to their home land in can change altitudes to “Why do you
Winter? Dr Niao: (interrupted find the best wind condi- think they will
again…) Wait wait… I tions. To fight a head- migrate North
Dr Niao: A HUH! You haven’t finish yet… do wind, most birds stay low, during winter?!
are underestimating the you know that birds have where ridges, trees and Because there
intelligence of Birds a large, four-chambered buildings slow the wind. is more to
again! Why do you think heart which proportion- To ride a tailwind, they EAT!”
they will migrate North ately weighs 6 times more get up high where the
during winter?! Because than a human heart. wind is as fast as possible.
there is more to EAT! The Amazing right! This…
24-hour days near the combined with a rapid This is great. Dr Niao,
Arctic Circle produces a heartbeat (the resting thank you, it has been
fantastic flowering of life. heart rate of a small nice interviewing you to-
This brief, but abundant, songbird is about 500 day. You have provided
source of food attracts beats per minute; that of plenty of answers for our
not only many birds but a hummingbird is about readers. Any last things to
mammals as well such as 1,000 beats per minute) add?
the caribou to the Arctic …satisfies the rigorous
for breeding purposes. metabolic demands of Dr. Niao: It’s great that
flight. Lastly unlike mam- such young journalists
Here is another question. malian or reptilian lungs, are taking interest in
Birds are relatively small the lungs of birds remain birds. Hope that more
compare to mammals and inflated at all times, with readers will get to know
reptiles. Does this help in the air sacs acting as bel- about birds and enjoy the
their migration? lows to provide the lungs wonderful nature and be-
with a constant supply of havior of birds! Thank
Dr Niao: Yes… Yes… fresh air. you for interviewing me, I
Birds are well adapted had a great time.
for their long flights! Not Wow.. didn’t know that
only do they have stream- Birds have such rapid
line body shape to mini- heartbeats! What other
mise air resistance they capabilities do birds hve
also had lightweight that they can boost?
skeleton composing of
Migratory Birds :
Navigation of birds - Solving a mystery

irds have the ability to find their the memory for places, as well as relation-
route home or from one migratory ships between places. They are able to re-
site to the other. Scientists have member location of some sites, recognize
been baffled by how birds navigate and up the special landmarks and landscapes, link
till now, no specific and accurate theories up the relationships between the places they
can be use to explain how birds navigate. have visited as well as to calculate and de-
However, many scientists have come up termine the safest and most efficient routes
with several theories and methods which between the sites. All these are performed
birds use in navigation. In this paper, the through the help of their mental maps.
various sources that will be discussed are: The mental maps that birds create are
1) mental maps, 2) olfactory, 3) sound- further improved by a gradient map, which
vibration cues, 4) visual cues, 5) landmarks uses not the landmarks, but rather, the vari-
and landscape, 6) gravity. ous gradient of the entire environment. This
is important especially for orientation sys-
1) Mental Maps tem that functions on a large-scale system.
Birds have complex spatial memory Instead of wasting time and energy in
for orientation and are able to create mental memorizing the landmarks, birds are able to
maps of familiar places. Spatial memory is use gradient maps to orientate outside their

territory, in a totally unfamiliar location. the group which did not flew off the first
The gradient map involves at least day.
two gradient of the land that intersects at an
angle. Birds will know through the map, 2) Olfactory navigation
which direction the gradients increase or Some species of birds used their ol-
decrease, and by comparing the local gradi- factory sense to detect, select food source
ents and their remembered home gradient, and recognize site location. For example,
they are able to determine their home direc- the wind may bring about an attractive
tion. Furthermore, the birds can also ex- smell and birds may orientate to the smell
trapolate the course of the gradients beyond according to the gradient of smell in the air.
the range of their direct experience, thus Experiments were conducted by
enabling them to use this mental map at a Grubb, 1974.2 Honeyguides were attracted
faraway, unknown location. by lighted candles smell, and sponges
Birds do not possess the mental map soaked with cod liver oil were approached
from birth. They need to obtain some infor- by birds flying upwind, but unscented
mation for construction of the maps. At the sponges were ignored. Research has been
third month of their life, birds start to ex- carried out with regards to the olfactory
tend their spontaneous flights. Using their bulb and brain ratio. However, this biologi-
magnetic compass, they record how various cal relevance may not be correlated to
navigational factors (sun compass, stellar birds’ efficiency in navigation. Some spe-
compass, magnetic field, wind and smell- cies with poorly developed olfactory bulbs
see under “orientation of Birds” below) may have just a higher capacity to discrimi-
change in a given direction and thus add nate between odors.
this information into their mental map. An experiment involving olfactory
An observation1 from an experiment navigation of pigeons was conducted by
conducted (Wiltschko and Wiltschko, 1985) Floriano Papi, 1986 and Wallraff, 1983,
shows that with just one spontaneous flight, 1988. The experiment was conducted sev-
birds’ orientation behavior change ad- eral times with several variables:
versely. A group of untrained pigeons were A) Anosmic birds, birds whose olfactory
set free from their loft and part of which nerves are severed,
stayed out of sight for 75min. The birds that B) Transient anosmic- spraying local anes-
remained at the loft were identified. The thetic on the bird’s olfactory sense,
following day, the two groups were re- 1) Transported without olfactory limitation,
leased again at a distant site and there was a 2) Prevented from perceiving odours during
significant difference in directional prefer- transportation.
ence between the two groups. This shows The table on the next page shows the result
that experience gathered for the first group gathered.
of birds that flew off on the first day, en-
abled them to form a mental map of the
various navigation factors differently from

Orientation in Birds; edited by P.Berthold; Article: The role of experience in Avian Naviga-
tion and Homing, page 250-269.
Variables Observations
1 2

A Shows disoriented naviga- Shows disoriented navigation,

tion, unable to fly homeward. unable to fly homeward.

B Initial disorientation, after an- Initial disorientation, takes much

esthesia wear off, increase in longer time to find their way
homeward directedness. home.
Table 1: Results of the experiments involving olfactory navigation of pigeons

From the experiment, several con- Researches are still carrying out on
clusions can be deduced. First, birds depend the concept that pigeons rely on odors to
on their olfactory senses to navigate to navigate. Some experiment have favored
places. Second, birds are able to determine some ideas, among which are: control of
the way home through substances dispersed olfactory input, control of information
in the atmosphere, and they need to smell available during passive transport and the
and recognize these substances when they condition in which the pigeons are kept at
are flying away from their loft. the loft. More research still can be done to
Another detour experiment was car- verify this theory and in explaining how
ried out. Two groups of pigeons were car- olfactory navigation occurs. But currently,
ried to the same release site by two differ- what can be proven is that pigeons depend
ing routes. These two groups showed differ- on the atmospheric odors and olfactory
ent initial orientation, each flying home maps created based on experience to deter-
with respect to the routes they pass by dur- mine their position with respect to their
ing transportation. However, when they home
were prevented from perceiving odours dur-
ing transportation, both groups showed the 3) Sounds-Vibration cues
same initial orientation. Auditory cues are most commonly used by
The site simulation experiment was some birds species. These involve nocturnal
also conducted with regard to the olfactory call notes from flying, frog calls, rivers,
navigation of birds. A group of pigeons breaking surfs and infrasound they heard
were allowed to smell atmospheric odours while flying. Birds are found to be able to
at one site from the loft (15-55km away) detect sound of frequency below 10Hz.
and in opposite direction from the release To find the source of sound, birds try
site. They were prevented from perceiving to recognize the difference in the detected
odours from outside during transportation signals. The direction of the sound can be
and had their olfactory anesthetised before determined through interaural delay that is
their release. The pigeons oriented accord- frequency dependent. Phase difference, dif-
ing to the position of the site they had ac- ference in time of arrival or difference in
cess to atmospheric odours and not the po- amplitude can be used to distinguish the
sition of the true release site. source of sound.
Orientation in Birds; edited by P.Berthold
Homing and migratory birds depend stimulation. 3
on their sensory receptors to extract mean- There are also behavioral data
ingful directional information from their which indicates that birds can detect plane
environment. These receptors are at least of polarization of polarized light. However,
partially understood, but little is known how they perceived plane of light polariza-
about how or where the sensory informa- tion is still undergoing researched. The eyes
tion is integrated in the brain for navigation of the birds are large and function optimally
use. within a narrow range of luminance (see
Fig1). At night, they can see well enough to
4) Visual Cues navigate high in the air, but not enough to
Homing birds use landmarks for navigation move around obstacles. How visual infor-
when they are in an area they know. They mation is processed within the brain and
also use solar compass and stellar cues, used for orientation and navigation is still
which will be discussed in further sections. not figured out yet. Yet some theories pro-
Birds create a visual image on the retina of posed that they can develop visual maps of
their eyes. They have extensive visual fields familiar areas, especially in the vicinity of
due to lateral displacement of their eyes; their homes and use this map for naviga-
hence, the entire pattern of the starry night tion.
sky can be monitored while flying. These
visual cues can also be referenced to the 5) Visual landmarks
horizon or landscape below the birds. In Navigation by use of visual landmarks with
addition, birds are able to detect ultraviolet a topographical map (or mental map) is
rays. Humming birds, pigeons and other called pilotage or piloting. By the human
species have demonstrated behavioral and physiological point of view, it is the
physiological response to ultraviolet

Goldsmith, 1980; Kreiton, 1979; Parrish et al, 1984.
Fig1: Average luminance of the earth’s surface when viewed from above and illuminated by
various light sources. Based upon data of Bond and Henderson(1963) for 50 degree latitude
at summer solstice. Note the average visual thresholds of the pigeon, man and owl in dark
Source: Martin, G.R. (1990). Bird Migration. Physiology and Ecophysiology (pp 192)
simplest form of navigation. For better using visual landmarks than solitary
birds, it is even more advantageous with flyers, probably due to collective use of
their superior sense of sight, with visual their orientation skills.
acuity equal to the upper limit of the human Diurnal flyers commonly follow
sight. Birds’ altitude in flight combined ‘leading lines’, such as rivers and mountain
with and their lateral vision gives them a ranges. Direction is obtained from other
wide view of the landscape, of over 100km cues and projected onto landscape for guid-
at 1000m altitude. Although there is no ance. Diurnal flyers may temporarily use
doubt that visual piloting is being used in such ‘leading lines’ in conditions of wind
bird navigation, there is also much evidence drift to avoid being guided off-course while
to prove its limited use as compared to taking advantage of them. Hawks flying
other forms of navigation. over updrafts along the north of Lake Supe-
rior use visual landmarks to keep in proper
The use of visual navigation with land- land course. This explains why diurnal fly-
marks: ers are less affected by drift in their course
By the familiar area hypothesis of of flight than nocturnal ones.
Robin Baker, young birds disperse and ex- Much evidence has shown that vis-
plore areas around their breeding ground ual navigation is important in the orienta-
between the time they are independent and tion of nocturnal migrants. They are disori-
their first migratory flight. Firstly, to be- ented when both ground and stars are not
come familiar with the landmarks which are visible to them. The situation where birds
important for subsequent homing, and sec- are attracted to lighthouse during the ab-
ondly, to source for suitable places which sence of the moon seems to suggest that
can become potential breeding sites. Visual they are affected by visual cues rather than
piloting also comes into use when a bird’s relying on other forms of navigation. Under
other navigation system fails to guide it clear sky conditions, nocturnal birds maybe
back to its breeding area accurately. able to use major topographical landscape,
Landmarks are advantageous in navi- the horizon and celestial markers for navi-
gation only if the bird is
familiar with them. In
some diurnal flyers, visual
landmarks are important
guides to their destina-
tions. Geese fly in family
groups, and the young
learn from the elders their
traditional routes of migra-
tion. They seem to remem-
ber landmarks such as for-
ests, rivers and mountains,

Limitations of visual navigation changing their sun-compass. The results
Experiments with pigeons showed that pigeons released took off in
directions away from their loft. Even at
When released from 25 miles close proximity to their loft, the pigeons fail
from home in good weather, experimental to recognize the landmarks but instead fly
pigeons had poor sense of orientation. Be- using their sun-compass. Orientation by
tween 35 to 50 miles, pigeons had no obvi- sun-compass is used primarily regardless of
ous methods of direct orientation, and their the surroundings and navigation by land-
poor orientation sense was probably due to marks is secondary (see Fig2). Experiments
their use of random search. However, at 10 using frost contact lens to impair pigeon’s
miles or less, and similarly at distances of vision have yielded results of successful
more than 50 miles from home, pigeons had locating of their loft with errors of a kilo-
much better orientation sense. At close meter or less. Not to mention problems the
ranges, pigeons rely on familiar landmarks pigeons have with landing, and exactly pin-
for visual piloting, while at long ranges, pointing their loft with defective vision, it
they rely on other navigational capabilities. can be concluded that pigeons do not have
(Matthews, 1955). Similar experiments to rely on visual landmark piloting in their
were conducted with their internal biologi- navigation (Alerstam, 1990). Experiments
cal clock readjusted, which has an effect of have also shown that pigeons require six or

Flocks of migratory birds flying off from a seashore

more visits to a point before they can suc- also cross large water bodies, where the use
cessfully orientate by only landmarks of visual piloting is greatly diminished with
(Matthews, 1955). The results dispel as- the absence of landmarks. Most birds have
sumptions that birds have quick and good lower threshold of light than humans (they
visual memory, which is essential for navi- see less light at night), therefore nocturnal
gation using landmarks, especially in long migrants are suspected to fly under very
distance migration. poor visual conditions, and more likely to
The extent to which landmarks use other forms of navigation.
are used in navigation is still unknown. The Being perceived as the simplest form of
advantage that birds have in landmark navi- navigation by the human physiology, the
gation due to their altitude and superior use of visual landmarks for navigation is
sense of sight is not much exploited, as taken for granted, and thought to be of
most migratory birds do not fly above 3000 equal importance in birds. However, the
feet. Pigeons, gulls and shearwaters use pi- availability of multiple and complex sen-
loting when flying at 200 feet or less. In sory mechanisms in birds have minimized
addition, atmospheric conditions will often the role of visual navigation, especially for
deteriorate such visual conditions. Radar long distances. Visual navigation by famil-
evidence has also shown that most migra- iar landmarks commonly comes into action
tory birds ignore landmark features such as in the last stages of migration, whereby the
rivers and coastlines. Many migratory birds interchange in navigation methods can be
seen from changes in the involvement of
different parts of the brain when birds home
into familiar areas.

Fig2: Source: Mead, C. (1983). Bird Mi-

gration (pp 124)

Fig.2 shows experimental results for clock--

shifted homing pigeons. Each pair (left and
right) represents results obtained at the
same time - those on the left from birds ex-
periencing 'normal' time but those on the
right had been kept under artificial light
conditions so that they believed, (from top
to bottom), that the time was six hours ear-
lier, six hours later and twelve hours differ-
ence. The results are from trained birds
which pecked in a preferred direction and
the predictions (marked by white arrows)

Migratory Birds :
Orientation of birds - Astronomical Compasses
Orientation is the ability to determine three major compasses by which migrating
the direction irrespective of destination. birds are believed to use to orientate them-
The compasses by which birds orientate selves, namely the sun, the stars and the
themselves with may be inborn or learned. magnetic field of the Earth. Because these
There is evidence of an inborn com- features vary little from year to year, they
pass for some birds such as the European are reliable directional cues.
cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). Experiments At any one time, the birds receive in-
have shown that the cuckoo has a preferred formation regarding their location from one
compass direction in which the young or more of these compasses. However, the
cuckoo will fly towards and unites with the birds only use a fraction of the information
rest of its species during the migratory pe- which is available to them. It is believed
riod. Such internal programs of preferred that there is a hierarchical arrangement of
direction therefore allow young birds which the compasses, with the magnetic compass
do not associate with their genetic parents towards the bottom of the hierarchy.
to perform migration by themselves in the
correct direction.1
Apart from the inborn compasses,
birds can also learn to use some other com-
passes to orientate themselves. There are

Birds can read the sun!

Day compass: Sun

Kramer experiments (1950)

In one experiment, Gustav Kramer
kept a starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in an ori-
entation cage during the normal period of
spring migration. It was found that under
sunny skies, the bird oriented to the west-
northwest. However, when the image of the
sun was deflected by a mirror by ninety de-
grees in the laboratory, a corresponding
shift in the orientation of the bird was ob-
In another experiment by Kramer,
starlings were put in cages with opaque Fig. 1: Some compasses used by birds during orientation
walls and a glass top. It was found that on
sunny days, the starlings oriented in the ap-
propriate direction, but on cloudy days they expected to orient to the southern sun as
oriented randomly.3 they had learnt to orient to the northern sun.
Both experiments show that birds re- As predicted, these birds orientated cor-
quire the sun in order to orientate them- rectly to the north at 0600 and 1800h, but at
selves in an appropriate direction. noon, since they have been trained directly
away from the sun during this time, they
Schmidt-Koenig experiment (1979)4 orientated to the south.
In this experiment, homing pigeons From this experiment, it was sug-
were subjected to trans-equatorial displace- gested that when birds maintain their direc-
ments. The pigeons were trained to feed in tion over the course of a day as the sun
a particular compass direction in a circular moves from east to west, the compensation
orientation cage. Therefore, pigeons that for the movement of the sun demonstrated
were trained to feed in the north in the that the birds were keeping time. They are
northern hemisphere where the sun moves able to compensate for the lapse of time by
from east to west in the southern sky should adjusting to the changing angle of the sun.
orientate 90˚ to the left of the sun at 0600h, They knew what orientation to the sun was
directly away from the sun at noon and 90˚ appropriate at 0600h, at noon and at 1800h.
to the right of the sun at 1800h. When these Subsequent research has also shown that
birds were transported to the southern melatonin secretions from the light-
hemisphere where the sun moves from east sensitive pineal gland on the top of the
to west in the northern sky, they were bird's brain facilitate this solar orientation.5

Bellrose experiment6 bird’s compass direction. Hoffmann re-
phased the internal clock of a bird by keep-
In this experiment, Bellrose fitted ing the bird under artificial light from a
Blue-winged Teal with radio transmitters noon-to-midnight period until its biological
and found that on cloudy days, they would clock is 6 hours behind the actual local
circle until they got above the clouds before time. At local noon, the bird’s clock will
they start to move in the appropriate direc- tell it the time is 0600h and the bird will
tion. This observation implies that Blue- interpret the sun which is due south to be
winged Teal need to see the sun to be able due east. At local 1800h, the bird will think
to navigate. it is noon. Therefore, it will interpret the
sun to be in the south instead of in the west.

Internal clock of birds7

In order for birds to use the sun cor-
rectly to orient themselves, they must first
be able to measure the time of the day accu-
rately i.e. have an accurate internal biologi-
cal clock. With an accurate internal clock,
they can then make adjustments that ac-
count for changes in the sun’s daily move-
ment across the sky as it travels from the Fig. 2
eastern to western horizons. Birds usually
learn the association between time, sun and Some hypotheses regarding how birds use
geographical direction during the first few the sun to orientate
weeks of their life. 1. Latitude and longitude determination us-
However, this internal clock of a bird ing the sun8
can be reset, thereby affecting its ability
measure the time of the day accurately. One Since the position of the Sun in the sky
of the inevitable consequences of re- can provide information on both longitude
phasing a bird’s internal clock is that, if it and latitude, it is possible that birds use this
tries to use the sun as a compass, it will information to locate themselves in space.
misinterpret direction. Such misinterpreta- However, the use of the sun to determine
tions of directions can be seen in many latitude and longitude has not been scien-
clock-shifted birds. tifically proven.

Hoffmann experiment (1954) A. Latitude determination

In this experiment, Hoffmann demonstrated Birds may use the sun to determine their
that clock-shifting a bird by 6 hours pro- latitude if they know how high the sun
duced the predicted 90 degrees shift of the should appear at a given time of day. Birds
may compare the instantaneous altitude of 2. Polarization patterns of the sun9
the sun above the horizon relative to its
memorized altitude at the same time at As a result of atmospheric scattering, the
home. light from the sun is linearly polarized. The
plane of polarization is closely related to
When one travels from the north to the the position of the sun. At sunset, the polar-
south, the noon height of the sun begins low ized light forms an image like a large bow-
in the southern sky, gradually rises to the tie located at the zenith, pointing north and
zenith near the equator, and gradually sinks south, providing a roughly north-south axis.
through the northern sky. Therefore, a place However, instead of the large bow-tie im-
where the sun at noon is lower than its age, it is believed that birds can see the ac-
height at home is further from the equator tual gradations in polarization between the
than home. A bird trying to return to the sun's nearly unpolarized light to the almost
same latitude as home from such a place 100% polarized light 90 degrees away from
needs only, therefore, to fly towards the the sun. Therefore, the detection of polari-
equator until the sun is at the correct height zation patterns in the sky provides a very
above the horizon at midday. useful compass and allows birds to use the
sun to orientate in cloudier conditions or
B. Longitude determination just after sunset. It has a direction, which
shows the position of the sun.
Matthew’s formulation of the sun-arc
model suggests that the bird can observe the 3.Ultraviolet light10
movement of the sun over a short period of
time, and then extrapolate the arc to the Experiments by Kreithen (1979) showed
noon position. How far along its arc the sun that birds such as pigeons have a peak of
had travelled relative to how far it would spectral sensitivity in the ultraviolet range
have travelled at home can then be judged. (325-360nm). While the use of both the sun
If the sun travelled too far along its arc, and polarized light allow birds to orientate
home lay to the west, if not far enough, to during the day, this method of orientation is
the east. only possible on days with clear skies or

Fig. 3: Major elements of Matthews’ sun–arc hy-

A displaced bird observes the sun’s position at the
release site and compares this with the position
the sun would be in if the bird were at home. If the
sun is lower than it should be, the release site is
further from the equator than is home. If the sun
has travelled less far along its daily arc than at
home (i.e. local time is lagging behind home
time), the release site is further west than is home.
In the diagram, the release point, if in the north-
ern hemisphere, is northwest of home.

4. Setting sun 11

It is believed that the view of the setting sun

is used by birds to select migration direc-
tion for the night. When the sun sets, the
pattern of polarized light in the evening sky
provides a reference for the birds’ orienta-
tion. The use of the setting sun to choose
migration direction can be observed
Fig. 4: Sensitivity of a pigeon to ultravio-
through the following 3 experiments.
let and visible light
Each dot is a behavioural threshold ob-
tained by cardiac conditioning. A. In studies by Kramer, orientation in
Birds can use ultraviolet wavelengths to cages under the night sky was observed but
detect polarization patterns since shorter only if the birds were exposed to it at the
ultraviolet wavelengths are able to penetrate test site at or before sunset. Furthermore,
thin cloud layers and are therefore available there were indications that the birds mis-
when the sun is hidden behind cloud cover. took the sky glow over a nearby city for the
Hence during the day, aided by sensitivity sunset and oriented accordingly in inappro-
to ultraviolet light, birds have compass in- priate directions.
formation from the sun and polarization
patterns at all times except under thick

Nocturnal migrants setting off during sunset

b. Experiments by F. Moore (1978, 1980) This experiment is conducted by a Cornell
also showed that the orientation of savan- behavioural ecologist, Stephen Emlen, to
nah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) study the effect of stars on indigo bun-
in orientation cages at night is significantly tings.12 In this experiment, he placed caged
better if they are allowed to see the sun set. indigo buntings in small funnels that had
When allowed to view the stars only after openings facing the planetarium sky, so that
dark, they do not orientate as well. the birds can observe the stars at night. By
manipulating the projected planetarium sky,
c. When migratory birds saw the sun and he was able to conclude several results.
the stars near the time of sunset, they were
found to be able to orient during flight in Firstly, in order to simulate the seasonal
appropriate migration directions (Able changes, Emlen manipulated the planetar-
1978, 1982a,b). When thick overcast set in ium sky into a spring or fall sky, which in-
several hours before sunset and continued duced zugunruhe, or migratory restlessness,
until after dark, migrating birds were often in the caged indigo buntings. This behav-
disoriented. When solid overcast began iour of the bird includes rapid fluttering of
near dusk, allowing the birds a view of the the wings and constantly hopping towards
sun near sunset but preventing them from the direction that they would migrate if in
seeing stars, no disorientation was ob- the wild during the migratory season. As
served. the floors of the cages have inked blotting
pads, Emlen was able to track the frequency
Do birds really navigate by reading the of hopping in the migratory direction by
night sky? taking quantitative records of the inked
marks made by the birds. The results were
Night compass: Stars
“northwards” during spring and
The Stephen Emlen Experiment “southwards” during autumn. However,
when Emlen turned off part of the planetar-
ium stars, the birds’ orientation ability suf-

In this experiment, Emlen also tested on the

birds that were raised observing and not
observing the stars at night and the effects
the stars had on their migratory ability. By
raising birds in conditions where they can-
not see the planetarium sky, they were not
able to migrate in the normal direction. On
the other hand, another set of birds were
raised in a planetarium that rotated about
the star Betelgeuse. When these birds were

released to fly under a normal oriented sky, no convenient marker. Birds in the northern
they actually migrated in a direction that hemisphere may use the Polaris to deter-
treated the star Betelgeuse as the North mine their latitude by comparing the alti-
Star, instead of Polaris. tude of the Polaris above the horizon rela-
tive to its memorized altitude at home.
The Franz Sauer Experiment
When one travels from the north to the
Franz Sauer tried to prove that the changing equator, the altitude of Polaris gradually
night sky had an effect on the migratory decreases from the overhead position to-
behaviour of warblers. The experiment was wards the northern horizon. Therefore, a
conducted during fall whereby the warblers place where the Polaris is higher than its
would start to orient themselves in their mi- height at home is further from the equator
gratory direction and display signs of mi- than home. A bird trying to return to the
gratory behaviour. The caged warblers were same latitude as home from such a place
then placed under a planetarium that was needs only, therefore, to fly towards the
rotated gradually in that particular direc- equator until the Polaris is at the correct
tion. While the planetarium was rotated for height above the horizon.
300km (approximate distance the warblers
travel in a night)13 in the direction of migra- Finding longitude based on the paths of in-
tion, the caged warblers continued to dis- dividual stars is similar to finding longitude
play their migratory restlessness behaviour. based on the sun. If, at an unfamiliar site, a
Only when they had arrived at the night sky particular star is observed to reach its high-
location that marked the destination of their est point of its path across the sky earlier
migration, which is middle Africa, they than at home, then home lies to the west; if
stopped showing restlessness behaviour. later, home lies to the east. However, unlike
the sun which reaches its highest altitude at
Some hypotheses regarding how birds use local noon, individual stars reach their high-
the stars to orientate est point at about 4 minutes earlier each
day. Also, stars well away from the axis of
1. Latitude and Longitude determination
rotation are for part of each year above the
using stars14
horizon only during the day, when they
cannot be seen.
Similar to the Sun, the position of stars in
the sky can provide information on both
longitude and latitude.

The Earth’s rotation makes the entire sky

i.e. the celestial sphere appears to rotate
about an axis. In the northern hemisphere,
this axis of rotation is marked by the Po-
laris. In the southern hemisphere, there is
Are birds biological magnets? sunny day or overcast day. However, when
he attached a small magnet to the pigeons
The F.W. "Fritz" Merkel and Wolfgang and repeated the experiment, those pigeons
Wiltschko Experiment that flew on a sunny day were able to navi-
gate home but the pigeons that flew on an
In 1964, Merkel and Wiltschko did an ex- overcast day became disoriented. These
periment to prove that birds also orient homing pigeons were seemed to be affected
themselves accordingly to the earth’s mag- by the magnets when they were not able to
netic field. The experiment was conducted navigate by the sun.15
in 2 different settings. Further studies were made by placing
coils on the birds’ heads, which produced a
In the first setting, the birds were placed magnetic current that flowed in a clockwise
inside a cement cage that sealed the birds direction (the usual direction of the earth’s
off from any visual environmental clues magnetic field in the northern hemisphere),
like solar or stellar cues. However, they the birds were able to fly home on both
were still able to orient themselves in the sunny and overcast days. However, when
right migratory direction. the magnetic current was reversed to an
anti-clockwise direction, the birds still flew
However, in the second setting, whereby home on a sunny day but flew in the wrong
the birds were placed in a steel cage, the direction by 180 degrees on an overcast
birds oriented themselves randomly. Why is day.
this so? Their conclusion was that the steel Thus, it can be concluded that the
cage actually disrupted the magnetic lines homing pigeons navigate by using both
of forces around the cage itself, which af- geomagnetic cues and solar cues, and per-
fected the birds’ orientation. haps using the solar cue as the primary cue
while the geomagnetic cue acts as a guide
Therefore, there is evidence that the birds when the solar cue is not available.
seem to be magnets themselves, giving Keeton also discovered the presence
them the ability to orient accordingly with of magnetite, a compound of iron and oxy-
the earth’s magnetic field. gen, in homing pigeons, particularly North-
ern Bobwhite, brain tis-
The Keeton Experiment in 1970s sues. Magnetite has north-
south magnetic properties
William T. Keeton, a Cornell scientist, did but it is still inconclusive
a couple of experiments that provided evi- whether magnetite is the
dence of birds navigating by a magnetic factor that gives the birds
compass. When he attached non-magnetic the ability to navigate by
brass bars to the homing pigeons and placed geomagnetic compass.
them in an unfamiliar location, the pigeons There are alternate theo-
were still able to fly home whether it was a ries that visual pigments

the visual sensory of the homing pigeons Observations of the experiment
actually responses to electromagnetic en-
ergy, which might be the reason how they At sunset, the birds were captured just be-
are able to navigate using geomagnetic fore they left for their migratory flights.
cues.16 Some of the thrushes were then exposed to
an East-West magnetic field during sunset
The Wikelski, Cochran, Mourltsen Experi- and released at darkness. These thrushes,
ment tracked by using radio transmitters, actually
flew west instead of the normal north.
This is a recent experiment that got pub- However, in the next morning, just before
lished in the April 16 issue of the magazine they landed, they saw the sun and realised
Science. This experiment attempts to show their mistake. Immediately, they turned 90
that 2 species of thrush, Swainson and degrees, re-calibrated themselves and flew
Gray-cheeked, have a magnetic compass off in the correct northward direction in the
that they calibrate daily, using the setting second night.
sun as a guide.
What do the observations suggest?

Under natural conditions

Gray cheeked Thrush The birds will fly 90 degrees clockwise

from the setting sun in order to fly north.17

When exposed to east pointing magnetic

Swainson Thrush

The birds will recognise east as the mag- Some hypotheses regarding how birds use
netic north. However, when they see the the stars to orientate
setting sun, they realise that the true north is
90 degrees anti-clockwise from the
“magnetic north”. Latitude determination using magnetic field

Bird’s compass when released after It is possible to find out the latitude using
sunset and east west magnetic field re- either the intensity of the magnetic field or
moved the angle of dip of the magnetic field. How-
ever, it is inconclusive if the birds actually
are aware of their positional latitude by this

The magnetic field intensity is greatest at

the magnetic poles and weakest at the equa-
tor while the angle of dip of the field is
greatest at the poles and almost parallel to
As the external east-west magnetic the earth’s surface at the equator. Thus, at
field has being removed, true north is mag- intermediate latitudes, the angle of dip will
netic north now to the bird’s compass. be between 0 and 90 degrees, while the
However, as the sun is gone and due to field intensity will vary in between.
their earlier correction that the true north
should be 90 degrees anti-clockwise from However, the way of measuring latitude by
the “magnetic north”, they will fly west, these 2 methods is not reliable as both field
thinking that that is the true north. intensity and angle of dip are subjected to
This combination of setting sun and distortion due to deep magnetic anomalies
magnetic compasses answer several issues within the earth surface in some regions.
of navigation. During a cloudy night, when Therefore, there are no conclusive results as
there is no sun and the stars are not visible, to if birds actually navigate by knowing the
a magnetic compass will be able to help the latitudes but it is a possible theory.19
bird to navigate. However, the magnetic
north pole is unstable as it changes in posi-
tion constantly, and it completely reverses
location with the south every few thousand
years. Thus, it is logical that the magnetic
compass serves as a guide to the primary
navigational cue-solar cue.18

Migration patterns
There are many Mi- LOOPS and CIRLCES
gration routes that
Many birds fly using loop
Birds took to reach or ellipse back to their
their destinations. But homeland without using
Do you know that there the same route they used
before. This is due to the
are at least 2 distinct
availability of food along
migration patterns and the route back and using
other minor ones that the prevailing winds to
saved energy. Both of
most birds have in
these played a part in
common. In this article, their migration. This
we will try to put it in therefore would give an
the least technical way advantage to birds who
used a different route
with many illustrious than those who stick to
examples so that you the original route.
may not only learn but
enjoy while reading it. Different species have differ-
ent loop and circle patterns.
Enjoy this special pic-
ture edition.

Breeding range and migration routes

of the Connecticut Warbler
The above bird, is the Short
tailed Shearwater. It makes
an incredibly large loop mi-
Another example is the Con- gration pattern in a pelagic
nenticut Warbler (above). species. In fact, they actually
The Warbler does not return completed a figure 8 circuit
by the same route in Spring, at the northern Pacific
Distribution and migration of the but by complete a loop by Ocean.
American Golden Plover.
migrating northwest across
as shown above.

Dog Legs
This type of migration patterns
are characterized by a prominent bend in
the route. When species have extended
their range, many species continue to
follow the old route. This is even so
when event he new areas are not on the
same axes as the previous route. The
new extended route are simply added to
the old pathways.

Distribution and migration of the Red

Distribution and migration route of the
eyed Vireo
Tundra Swans in North America

Migration route and wintering grounds of Cali-

fornia Gulls banded in northwestern Wyoming

Pelagic Wandering
Although observations on the movement of birds are difficult, they usually have regular routes. But some-
times when they are not breeding, they appeared to be nomadic. These movements are not random though.
Usually the wandering is due mainly and co related to the ocean currents, prevailing winds, temperature
and water fertility , especially if the water provide plenty of fish for breeding.

Vertical Migration
Birds sometimes also migrate VERTICALLY. They move down of the mountains during winter and move up again after winter.
This few hundred altitude is equivalent to hundreds of miles of latitude. Birds that undergoes this usually lived near mountain
ranges .ie Mountain Quail and Blue Grouse

Half of all the
heading The other natural cause
south for the of mortality is
winter will
Bad weather, which
Predation! Hey
not return to one have to
we always hate, is
breed in the follow the jungle
inevitable! And this
is one of the natural law, the big eat
causes of mortality the small!
during migration

You cannot differentiate between

the real sky and a reflection of
the sky in the window and Bang! Bang! You get shot
therefore collide with tall by hunters!
buildings ending your trip

“Hey there is a big bird flying

towards us!” say little bird and
flew towards the bird. … Imagine working for 24/7
Knock! … Little bird got a as there are no
bump and started crying, ” its Stopover to
not a bird … it’s a PLANE! “ rest!... stopovers
are continue
losing land for
human use! That
means birds
have to continue
There are no insurance flying without
to cover all the 7 resting or finding
HECK! Since

Do you know?
Bird Hibernation of birds. They were: 1) that some birds
Before the discovery of bird migration, hu- avoid the cold by hibernating; and 2) that
man beings tried to observe and give expla- others disappear for the winter because they
nations to the seasonal disappearance of transmutate into other species!
birds. In one of the works by Aristotle who The idea that swallows hibernated
lived about 2200 years ago, he gave two under water persisted long after the illustra-
explanations for the seasonal disappearance tion was published. Hibernation is a

Fig 1 The above illustration published by Olaus Magnus in 1555 shows two fishermen stand-
ing at the edge of ice in winter and hauling in a net containing a mixed catch of fish and hi-
bernating birds. Source:

common practice among the animals during are given to these groups of “racing pi-
winter and many people at that time geons”, where trainers first allow the pi-
claimed to have seen swallows in hiberna- geons to be familiar with places around
tion or being taken from a river in winter! their loft. Next, they bring the pigeons 6-
Hence many well known naturalists ac- 8km away from their loft and release them
cepted this immersion theory of hibernation to allow them to be familiar with more
questioningly throughout the eighteenth places and learn to fly back home. The dis-
century. tance gradually increases until it covers the
area where the competition is to be held.
Pigeon Race During the race, bird’s leg is tied to a band
In the past, people organize pigeon races where official timings are taken. The bird
that cover up to 970 kilometers. Trainings has to fly back into their loft, where the

trainers will then remove their band on their We began by asking how the birds
leg and record the time. Birds are chosen manage to fly back to their nest all
according to their physical qualities and
the time even after traveling long
conditions, as well as perfect, unbroken
flight feathers.
distances. We have found out that
birds actually made use of com-
Pigeon Messenger passes (celestial bodies) and in-
More than 3000 years ago, homing pigeons built maps, welded together in se-
are used to carry messages for the ancient quences of route-based and loca-
Egyptians and Persians. News of Olympic
tion based navigation to carry out
Games victories are carried by pigeons in
Greece over the various cities. During the
its seasonal migration.
Franco-Prussian war, the French used hom-
ing birds to send military messages, but the The seasonal disappearance and
Germans train hawks to catch the homing navigation of birds, by now, is no
pigeons. Homing pigeons served the US longer a mystery. It seems to be
signal corps in WW1 and 2 and in Korean
solved with the experiments and
war. During WW1, 1 bird carried a message
about 24miles(39km) in 25min, it arrives
observations done by the scientists.
with one leg shot off and its breast injured To our understanding, Birds have
by a bullet. In 1956, US sold the last of its and are born with developed mag-
homing pigeons and replaced them by elec- netic compass that can express it-
tronic devices. self with full force under different
circumstances. Although there are
other animals are also shown to use mag-
netic compass to navigate, eg; whales,
many mysteries that had been
sharks, tuna, trout and sea turtles. solved, it still takes time to bring
ourselves to believe it. We hoped
that by the time you reach the end
of this magazine, you will have a
better understanding of the birds
as much as we the editors know
about them. Thank you for sup-
porting us! See you in the next is-

From the Editors.

Very early one morn-
ing, two birds are sit-
A duck walks into a convenient
ting at the side of a
store and walks up the counter.
large puddle of oil. They see a
The duck asks, "Got any grapes?" "No,"
worm on the other side. One bird
said the puzzled store clerk. The duck
flies over the puddle and the
smiles and walks out the door. A little
other bird swims through - whcich
while later the duck returns and asks,
one gets to the worm first?. . . .
"Got any grapes?" The clerk replies, "No!
The one who swam of course, be-

Like I already told you 15 minutes ago, I
cause "da oily boid gets da woim."
don't have any grapes!" The duck smiles
A BlueJay applied for the reception- and walks out. A little while later the
ists job at the new AT&T headquar- duck returns and again asks "Got any
ters. The interviewer, a bit non- grapes?" The irate clerk yells, "No! We
plussed, told the Jay that the candi- didn't have any, we don't have any, and
date had to be able to type at least 80 were not going to have
words per minute. The Jay demon- any. If you come back
strated a 100 wpm talent! Not wanting in here again I'll nail
to hire a BIRD for the job, the inter- your webbed feet to
viewer told the Jay that the candidate the floor!" The duck
had to be able to take dictation. The smiles and walks out.
Jay surpassed all other candidates. Fi- Later the duck re-
nally the interviewer thought he'd be turns and asks the
able to get rid of the Jay with "the clerk "Got any nails?" The clerk says
candidate must be bilingual!" The Jay "NO!" The duck replies, "Good! Got any
replied "Meow!!" grapes?"

A mother bird, a daddy bird and One fine day a chicken walked into a library and said
their baby bird were getting BUCK (book), so the librarian gave the chicken a book.
ready to migrate. The mother The next day the same chicken came back to the li-
bird said, "My instincts tell me to brary and said BUCK BUCK, so the librarian gave him
go north." The daddy bird said, two books. The next day the same chicken came back
"My instincts tell me to go to the library and said BUCK BUCK BUCK, so again the
south." The baby bird said,"My librarian gave him three books, but this time the li-
end stinks too, but it brarian decided to follow him to see what a
doesn't tell me where chicken wanted with three books. As he saw the
to go!" chicken come to a stop at the edge of a pond,
he saw the chicken pass all the books to a frog
who while he was looking at them was saying,
Two statisticians went duck hunting.
A mallard flew overhead and one
statistician fired just to the right of the
bird. The other statistician fired just to the
left of the bird. They turned to each other
in glee, and congratulated each other... "On 30
average, he's dead!", they cried! The mallard
continued his migration.
White . . . . . . . . . . 704 birds

Black . . . . . . . . . . 620 birds

Bird . . . . . . . . . . . 585 birds

Yellow . . . . . . . . . 335 birds

Red . . . . . . . . . . . 320 birds

Warbler . . . . . . . 297 birds

Wing . . . . . . . . . . 285 birds

Gray/Grey . . . . . 273 birds

Head . . . . . . . . . . 256 birds

Blue . . . . . . . . . . . 224 birds

Green . . . . . . . . . 223 birds

Wren . . . . . . . . . . 223 birds

Brown . . . . . . . . . 158 birds

Hawk . . . . . . . . . 142 birds

Sparrow . . . . . . . 114 birds

Honeyeater . . . . . 108 birds

Collared . . . . . . . . 102 birds

Navigation of Birds
Martin, G.R. (1990). The Visual Problems of Nocturnal Migration. In Gwinner. E (Ed.), Bird Migration.
Physiology and Ecophysiology (pp 186-195). Berlin: Springer-Verlag
Berthold, P. (1993). Bird Migration. A General Survey (pp 140-143). New York: Oxford University Press.
(Original work published 1990)
Berthold, P. (1996). Control of Bird Migration (pp 249). London: Chapman & Hall
Mead, C. (1983). Bird Migration (pp 123-124). New York: Newnes Books
Short, L. L. (1993). The Lives of Birds. Birds of the World And Their Behavior (pp136-138). New York:
Henry Holt and Company
Alerstam, T. (1990). Bird Migration (pp 378-382). Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press
Papi, F. (Ed.) (1992) Animal Homing (pp 301). London; New York: Chapman & Hall
Matthews, G.V.T. (1955) Bird Navigation (pp 56-58, 77-78). Cambridge University Press
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘Bird compasses : relationships’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?,
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘Bird compasses : by day’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?, p.77-86.

Orientation of Birds
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘How could birds navigate?’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?, p.33-54.
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘How could birds navigate?’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?, p.33-54.
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘Bird compasses : by day’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?, p.77-86.
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘Bird compasses : by day’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?, p.77-86.
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘Bird compasses : relationships’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery?,
Baker, R. Robin (1984) ‘How could birds navigate?’ Bird Navigation: the solution of a mystery? Pg 48




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