For The Birds

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Birds used to get the news first. In 1850, Paul Julius Reuters got a jump on competitors by using the fastest available technology to send messages that would become headlines. He used pigeons.

Nowadays, pigeons aren't considered to be technologically advanced in the same way. Satellite technology has made them slow. Well, the two technologies were combined, it was announced this week. Scientists placed matchbox-sized GPS units on the backs of pigeons and marked their movements to find out how they navigate.  A University of New Zealand scientist and his team let pigeons go in a patch where the earth's geomagnetic field is screwy, or anomalous. The pigeons flew in various directions. When they got out of the patch, they reoriented towards home.

It is believed that pigeons have a magnetic mineral in their beaks called magnetite that helps them find their way. People get excited about smaller, more advanced GPS units that help them find their way home. Pigeons don't need such extras; their GPS comes standard.

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