Birds can navigate accurately over hundreds to thousands of kilometres, and this ability of homing pigeons is the basis for a worldwide sport. Compass senses orient avian flight, but how birds determine their location in order to select the correct homeward bearing (map sense) remains a mystery. Also mysterious are rare disruptions of pigeon races in which most birds are substantially delayed and large numbers are lost. Here, it is shown that in four recent pigeon races in Europe and the northeastern USA the birds encountered infrasonic (low-frequency acoustic) shock waves from the Concorde supersonic transport. An acoustic avian map is proposed that consists of infrasonic cues radiated from steep-sided topographic features; the source of these signals is microseisms continuously generated by interfering oceanic waves. Atmospheric processes affecting these infrasonic map cues can explain perplexing experimental results from pigeon releases.

REFERENCES

Alerstam
T.
(
1996
).
The geographical scale factor in orientation of migrating birds
.
J. Exp. Biol
199
,
9
–.
Donn
W. L.
(
1978
).
Exploring the atmosphere with sonic booms
.
Am. Sci
66
,
724
–.
Gould
J. L.
(
1982
).
The map sense of pigeons
.
Nature
296
,
205
–.
Griffin
D. R.
(
1969
).
The physiology and geophysics of bird navigation
.
Q. Rev. Biol
44
,
255
–.
Gronau
J.
,
Schmidt-Koenig
K.
(
1970
).
Annual fluctuation in pigeon homing
.
Nature
226
,
87
–.
Kerr
R. A.
(
1979
).
East coast mystery booms: Mystery gone but booms linger on
.
Science
203
,
256
–.
Kreithen
M. L.
,
Quine
D. B.
(
1979
).
Infrasound detection by the homing pigeon: A behavioral audiogram
.
J. Comp. Physiol
129
,
1
–.
Papi
F.
,
Keeton
W. T.
,
Brown
A. I.
,
Benvenuti
S.
(
1978
).
Do American and Italian pigeons rely on different homing mechanisms?
.
J. Comp. Physiol
128
,
303
–.
Papi
F.
,
Luschi
P.
(
1996
).
Pinpointing ‘Isla Meta’: The case of sea turtles and albatrosses
.
J. Exp. Biol
199
,
65
–.
Quine
D. B.
,
Kreithen
M. L.
(
1981
).
Frequency shift discrimination: Can homing pigeons locate infrasounds by Doppler shifts?
.
J. Comp. Physiol
141
,
153
–.
Schmidt-Koenig
K.
(
1961
).
Die Sonne als Kompass im Heim-Orientierungssystem der Brieftauben
.
Z. Tierpsychol
18
,
221
–.
Schmidt-Koenig
K.
,
Schlichte
H.-J.
(
1972
).
Homing in pigeons with reduced vision
.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
69
,
2446
–.
Schöps
M.
,
Wiltschko
W.
(
1994
).
Orientation of homing pigeons deprived of infrasound
.
J. Orn
135
,
415
–.
Walcott
C.
(
1996
).
Pigeon homing: observations, experiments and confusions
.
J. Exp. Biol
199
,
21
–.
Walker
M. M.
,
Diebel
C. E.
,
Haugh
C. V.
,
Pankhurst
P. M.
,
Montgomery
J. C.
,
Green
C. R.
(
1997
).
Structure and function of the vertebrate magnetic sense
.
Nature
390
,
371
–.
Wallraff
H. G.
(
1972
).
Homing of pigeons after extirpation of their cochleae and lagenae
.
Nature
236
,
223
–.
Wiltschko
R.
(
1996
).
The function of olfactory input in pigeon orientation: does it provide navigational information or play another role?
.
J. Exp. Biol
199
,
113
–.
Wiltschko
W.
,
Nohr
D.
,
Wiltschko
R.
(
1981
).
Pigeons with a deficient sun compass use the magnetic compass
.
Science
214
,
343
–.
Wiltschko
W.
,
Wiltschko
R.
(
1976
).
Interrelation of magnetic compass and star orientation in night-migrating birds
.
J. Comp. Physiol
109
,
91
–.
Wiltschko
W.
,
Wiltschko
R.
(
1996
).
Magnetic orientation in birds
.
J. Exp. Biol
199
,
29
–.
Windsor
D. M.
(
1975
).
Regional expression of directional preferences by experienced homing pigeons
.
Anim. Behav
23
,
335
–.
Young
J. M.
,
Greene
G. E.
(
1982
).
Anomalous infrasound generated by the Alaskan earthquake of 28 March 1964
.
J. Acoust. Soc. Am
71
,
334
–.
This content is only available via PDF.