The intrigue of bird and a small mammal navigation without visual reference.


With all the work on wind farms in dairy and wildernss areas that Amanda and I do, one animal behavioral trait that constantly amazes us is the ability of birds to locate a nest in swathes of uniform pastures, fynbos and crop land. Larks, Pipits and Cisticolas all return to their nest with unwavering accuracy. This in a landscape of apparent uniformity devoid of obvious beacons.

Even small mammals demonstrate incredible homing skills as they have to literally burrow through vegetation that dwarfs them. While scent makers assist mammals getting back to the safety of a burrow, there are times when we startle a mongoose or ground squirrel, which in a flash, bolt to their burrow without any obviously path to follow and no visual reference.


This morning, Bandit, our dog also demonstrated this innate homing instinct. The noticeable distinction with his actions were that the location was a Yellow Mongoose burrow which he had only been to twice in the past ten days. On a walk this morning he dashed into the pasture which was taller than him and went directly to the burrow. While scent cannot be ignored as guiding him, the wind direction was not in the right direction to be the main navigation method. Yet he knew that the burrow was in the vicinity and once he was within 70m of it he went there directly without any visual reference to assist him. Definitely impressive and possibly a combination of mind mapping and magnetic sensitivity.

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