And scientists are
only getting a peek
in the direction that in principle should see them arrive in a place where they can survive the winter.
“Then based on that first year, they then seem to return to known locations.”
The researchers believe the other migratory birds could also be using similar navigational aids during their journeys.
Through understanding avian navigation, scientists believe there could be positive spin-offs, not only for the birds but also for humans.
“This will become helpful as we become more and more interested in autonomous vehicles,” says Holland.
“We have GPS which is incredibly accurate, but what happens if suddenly World War III starts and they turn off the GPSes? So having back up systems that rely on other cues might be a valuable thing to have.”
Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson, of Birdlife South Africa, added that knowing how birds navigate could help in their conservation.
“With the advent of climate change, we would be able to predict the impact it will have on migration.”
But there is still a lot to learn and scientists are only now getting a peek.
“Do you know that recent studies have shown that pairs of woodland kingfishers split up when they migrate to Central Africa? They only see each other again at the same nesting site when they return. That is just incredible,” says Smit-Robinson.