True navigation in birds: from quantum physics to global migration


  • R. A. Holland

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast, UK
    • Correspondence

      Richard Holland, Queen's University Belfast, School of Biological Sciences, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7BL, UK.


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  • Editor: Steven Le Comber


Birds are capable of true navigation, the ability to return to a known goal from a place they have never visited before. This is demonstrated most spectacularly during the vast migratory journeys made by these animals year after year, often between continents and occasionally global in nature. However, it remains one of the great unanswered questions in science, despite more than 50 years of research in this field. Nevertheless, the study of true navigation in birds has made significant advances in the previous 20 years, in part thanks to the integration of many disciplines outside its root in behavioural biology, to address questions of neurobiology, molecular aspects, and the physics of sensory systems and environmental cues involved in bird navigation, often involving quantum physics. However, true navigation remains a controversial field, with many conflicting and confusing results making interpretation difficult, particularly for those outside or new to the field. Unlike many general texts on migration, which avoid discussion of these issues, this review will present these conflicting findings and assess the state of the field of true navigation during bird migration.