There are certain areas on Earth where homing pigeons seemingly become lost, unable to return home, and simply…go missing.
I wrote about such an incident last August, when pigeon racers began calling an area of the UK the “Bermuda Triangle of Pigeons.” They just kept vanishing, never to return.
Explanations ranged from a high number of rain showers to solar flares, but the problem of vanishing pigeons isn’t a new phenomenon. Scientists have long known that certain areas, for whatever reason, interfere with a pigeon’s ability to locate their home.
“The way birds navigate is that they use a compass and they use a map. The compass is usually the position of the Sun or the Earth’s magnetic field, but the map has been unknown for decades.”
– Dr. Jonathan Hagstrum
Well, scientists may have found the answer.
Yesterday, Dr. Jonathan Hagstrum and his team published a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology that suggests pigeons “home in” by sensing infrasound waves, which create an “acoustic map” of their route back.
An infrasound wave is a “low-frequency sound,” lower than 20 Hz, below the limit of human hearing. However, birds hear much lower than that:
“Prior research had shown that birds hear incredibly low-frequency sound waves of about 0.1 Hertz, or a tenth of a cycle per second. These infrasound waves may emanate from in the ocean and create tiny disturbances in the atmosphere.”
– LiveScience, Mystery of Lost Homing Pigeons Finally Solved
These infrasound waves, originating from deep within the ocean, provide the pigeons with a “map,” which can occasionally become distorted.
This may explain why pigeons sometimes get lost: if the infrasound waves in their current location don’t make it to their home, their “acoustic map” is incomplete. They don’t know the way.
Even more confusing for the pigeons is if these waves are carried by the wind, or affected by the temperature, leading them somewhere else entirely.
Experiments must, of course, be performed to confirm this idea. But it seems to make sense, at least fundamentally.
I guess it wasn’t a dimensional rift after all.
Image courtesy Frédéric BISSON.