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Birds detect the magnetic fields of the earth and use this information to aid in navigation during long-distance migrations. While most of the literature focuses on the ability of migratory birds to detect the magnetic field of the earth, studies indicate that magnetodetection mechanisms are conserved in non-migratory species, which do not need a magnetic sense for navigation. Other taxa, such as sandbar sharks and western long-beaked echidna, have a similar electric sense which they use to locate prey. The presence of a magnetic field induces an electric field (and vice-versa), meaning that birds with a magnetic sense may be able to use their magnetosensory mechanisms to detect the electromagnetic fields of their prey, similar to prey finding in electric fish. Woodpeckers and other similar species search for insects under the bark of trees, and there is limited literature on what senses they use to find this hidden food source. Here I tested for the first time the ability of wild wintering birds to detect and discriminate between two feeders which differed only in magnetic fields. I found that birds initially avoided the magnetic stimulus, although this behavior differed depending on the percentage of food remaining, indicating that wild birds have the ability to detect magnetic fields in the context of foraging. I also set out to determine whether or not wild birds could be trained to associate a magnetic stimulus with a food source, however, this experiment terminated prematurely due to oversights in the study design. This study contributes to the limited body of knowledge surrounding the magnetic sense in non-migratory birds and provides evidence that wintering birds alter their foraging behavior in response to strong magnetic fields.
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Furze, Aidan R., "Magnetic Avoidance In The Foraging Behavior Of Wild Woodpeckers And Other Wintering Birds" (2019). Senior Projects Fall 2019. 9.
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