Aug. 8 - Water birds appear to prefer landing along the north-south axis, according to a study by Czech scientists. The researchers say their findings could help improve landing navigation systems for aircraft and prevent accidents when planes land close to water. Suzannah Butcher reports.
It's long been known that birds have a kind of magnetic compass in their heads, helping them fly in the right direction on long journeys. But now scientists say this compass appears to be helping them land as well. A study of more than 3,000 flocks of birds shows that they almost always land in the same direction - on the north/south axis. Professor Jaroslav Cerveny said he was initially sceptical when his colleague saw the pattern. SOUNDBITE (Czech) CHIEF SCIENTIST AND PROFESSOR AT PRAGUE'S UNIVERSITY OF LIFE SCIENCES, JAROSLAV CERVENY, SAYING: "Vlasta noticed that the ducks were always landing in the same direction, facing north. Initially, I thought this was a coincidence, and that they were landing against the direction of the wind. But there was no wind at all. Anyway, I didn't believe in it for a long time." It appears the birds are using the earth's magnetic field as a landing guide. Cerveny says that in the future, this knowledge could help improve air safety. SOUNDBITE (Czech) CHIEF SCIENTIST AND PROFESSOR AT PRAGUE'S UNIVERSITY OF LIFE SCIENCES, JAROSLAV CERVENY, SAYING: "The results of our research can be used in the future to improve flying navigation systems, because landing navigation is always more difficult closer to water than above dry land." The team from Prague's University of Life Sciences carried out the study in eight countries with 14 different bird species. The landing pattern was the same regardless of the weather conditions.