Home appliances create electromagnetic fields that seemed to be harmless. But now the University of Oldenburg in Germany found out by accident, that electrosmog can make the nocturnal European robins completely disoriented.

Hendrik Mouritsen team studied the behavior of European robins for years. They discovered, that these birds have magnetic compasses in both eyes.

Scientists vainly tried experiments for 3 years in bird cabins at the Oldenburg University campus, with a method successfully used in Denmark. Usually the Erithacus rubecula has a sensor in the beak and light-sensitive molecules in the eyes which is used to perceive electromagnetic fields. It leads birds to their winter quarters and breading areas that are hundreds of kilometers away. But in Germany the birds were confused and couldn't use their biological compass. Electrophysiologist Nils-Lasse Schneider suggested to shield the bird cabins electrical with aluminium boards and suddenly the birds had their orientation back.

So far, researchers assumed the effect was caused by computers, printers, or radios impacting the creatures with background interferences. Geologist Joseph Kirschvink, from the Institute of Technology in California, reckoned that robins use their sixth sense as a backup compass and that birds can orient themselves to the sun and the spangled sky.

As he explained to the Washington Post:

“The levels of radio-frequency radiation that affected the bird’s orientation are substantially below anything previously thought to be biophysically plausible, and far below levels recognized as affecting human health.

(...) If the effect reported by the authors stands the acid test of reproducibility, we might consider gradually abandoning our use of this portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and implementing engineering approaches to minimize incidental low-frequency noise, to help migratory birds find their way.”

Source: The-Scientist.com, Nature.com

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