SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGHS IN GERMANY: Bird Navigation and Mapping
Secrets of bird navigation remain a mystery to many bird watchers. Even scientists don't fully understand how birds migrate thousands of miles. Two German research projects look for answers using a combination of classic experiments and satellites. FRONTIERS meets Dr. Peter Berthold, who outfits the storks with backpacks and transmitters, then travels to the University of Frankfurt, where a research team sets up clever experiments to find out if homing pigeons use maps and compasses.
Activity: Orienteering Skills
Notes & Discussion
ACTIVITY: ORIENTEERING SKILLS
INSERT ORIENTEERING SKILLS CHARTS FROM PAGE 10 IN PRINT GUIDE FOR SHOW 402
Birds travel thousands of miles without using a compass and map as we know them. Could you? Put your navigational skills to the test with this orienteering activity.
A sheepherder has an ancient map with symbols that represent different types of terrains. He wants to follow the route on the map, but wants his lamb to gain close to 50 pounds during the 10-month trip. He knows the lamb's potential weight gain while grazing for a month in each type of terrain. Using the map grid in the graphics file and directional compass, follow the directions and find out if his lamb fattened up.
- colored pencils
- compass (or protractor)
- Make a compass as your instructor directs. Put the hole in your compass over symbols so you can see them through the compass. Always align the compass so it points North (keep edges parallel to the lines).
- Begin at map coordinate A-1 (marked with an X). Refer to the list of moves and draw a line on the map to the next location. Write the new coordinate, type of terrain and the lamb's potential weight gain in your blank data table. Repeat for all locations.
| MOVE #
|| 45 degrees
|| 2.5 km|
|| Due North
|| 5.5 km|
|| 235 degrees
|| 3.7 km|
|| 65 degrees
|| 7.7 km|
|| 16 degrees
|| 8.0 km|
|| Due West
|| 3.0 km|
|| 25 degrees
|| 10.0 km|
|| Due South
|| 8.0 km|
|| 295 degrees
|| 11.0 km|
|| 155 degrees
|| 5.8 km|
- How far did the sheepherder drive his flock?
- How much weight did the lamb gain?
- Which map grid was crossed most?
- Plot your own 10-month trip and write directions for someone else to follow. Use a different color to draw the solution on your map. Limit the lamb's growth to 50 pounds.
- 59.5 kilometers
- 46 pounds
- B - 4 is crossed most (4 times)
- Answers will vary, but many students would keep the flock around hills and lakes, since the average weight gain is 5 pounds. Over a ten-month period, lambs would gain 50 pounds.
- You can use this activity to illustrate navigational and map skills.
- The orienteering activity can be done as a paper and pencil assignment. Or use the basic ideas to create a larger orienteering course inside or outside the school building.
- Review basic compass directions and their angle counterparts. This activity will work better if your compass indicates directional angles. * To make a non-magnetic direction-only compass: On a 3" x 3" or larger card, use a protractor to draw compass directions and angles with a sharp pencil or felt-tipped pen. Start at North (360 degrees and 0 degrees), then work around every 10 degrees to East (90 degrees), South (180 degrees) and West (270 degrees). Split the 10 degree lines with other lines to make 5 degree increments. After the compass points are drawn, punch a hole at the intersection of all lines.
NOTES: all vertical lines point North-South. All horizontal lines point East-West.
NOTES & DISCUSSION
- What specialized memory systems do birds use to help them navigate? What systems do other species use? (FRONTIERS Show 201 features a story about the navigational abilities of sea turtles. In some species of lizards, a third eye functions as a homing device.) How have human navigators and explorers made use of similar systems over the ages?
- How does the pigeon/landmark experiment set up by the Wiltschko research team demonstrate the scientific method? Can students think of ways to change or improve on the experiment? Discuss the concept of "failure" in scientific research.
- Pick a popular destination like the nearest mall. Have students tell each other how to get there. Do they rely on measured distances, street names or visual landmarks? Ask students to draw maps of their routes to school. How many different kinds of maps are produced?
- The student activity is an adaptation of an orienteering challenge. Originally developed to teach navigation skills to Swedish soldiers, orienteering is a popular international sport that combines map reading abilities and survival skills. Using a topographic map and compass, participants follow a set course and pick up clues or points along a series of checkpoints. The fastest finisher with the highest score on the prescribed course wins. To find out more, write to: U.S. Orienteering Federation, P.O. Box 1444, Forest Park, GA 30051.
CREDIT: Maryland science education consultant Frank Weisel, who created this activity, conducts an orienteering challenge inside his high school, using room numbers as checkpoints. Later this year he will set up an outdoor orienteering course in a nearby park.
Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.