I’ve been interested in Animal Navigation for years. I’ve always been interested in things like orientation and maps and so on, but it was when I started working with the Efe Pygmies in the mid 1980s, and noticed that there were some interesting things about how they found their way around in the rainforest, that I started to track and absorb the literature on the issue. Back then, there were a few researchers who felt that some animals, possibly including humans, had built in navigation equipment, possibly using magnetics. Some of those researchers oversimplified their models and took the position that if pigeons could home with a built in compass, than so could humans, for instance. Some of the research was a bit zany and I think the world of zoology was not quite ready for the idea that organisms had built in electronic (magnetic, actually) parts. The physiology of navigation remained controversial for some time, and many of the researchers who had valid findings, it seems needed to be careful how much they pused their ideas.
We’ve come a long way since then, and a recently published book, Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation by James Gould and Carol Grant Gould is an excellent entree into the science of animal navigation.
This book covers navigation in a wide range of animals living in a diversity of habitats around the world. Navigation by animals is not simple. Most animals use multiple systems, though one system or another may be primary. Some of the things animals do to navigate can only be thought of as the use of senses other than the ones we usually assume exist. It turns out that humans are nothing special in the area of navigation. Many other creatures have us beat in keeping track of time and space relationships. This is as expected, since primates are rarely migratory and rarely cover large distances. (Humans are unique in this regard, I’m pretty sure.)
The book covers basic problems in navigation, keeping track of time, internal compasses, internal maps, and important issues related to conservation and extinction. Enough of this book addresses birds that I’m listing this review under “bird books” but it is by no means limited to Aves.