Chickens are precocial birds, capable of moving independently from within a few hours of hatching, and thus provide a useful model to investigate the development of magnetoreception in young birds. Chicks show some sharply-timed behavioural changes at around 11 days of age that may be indicative of improvements in navigation ability around this age. We trained Young (<10 days, n = 7) and Old (11 days or older, n = 6) chicks to find a hidden imprinting stimulus behind one of four screens in a square arena. Once criterion was reached, the directional choices of chicks were recorded in unrewarded tests in the geomagnetic field and in an experimental field shifted by 90° clockwise. These tests were separated with rewarded training trials to avoid extinction. In the first, and the first 3 tests, no indication was found that chicks chose the correct unimodal magnetic direction. Instead, in all tests, Old chicks preferred the screens in the same magnetic axis as the training direction in tests in the geomagnetic and shifted experimental fields significantly more than Young chicks (P < 0.05). Choices of Young chicks were no different to chance in tests, whereas choices by Old chicks were significantly different from chance (P < 0.05). Our findings support the hypothesis that magnetoreception appears in the second week of life in the chicken. It is, however, unclear when a truly directional magnetic response (i.e. an unimodal, rather than axial, response in our test) develops that could be used by the chicks for accurate navigation.
Munro, U., Luu, P., Defilippis, L., & Freire, R. (2014). Ontogeny of magnetoreception in chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus). Journal of Ethology, 32(2), 69-74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-014-0395-3