Ancient Guide Birds

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Ancient Guide Birds

Long before the European discovery of the New World, seafaring men navigating uncharted waters used birds to determine in which direction land lay. To ensure that they got this information they used only birds that could not swim. When released, the birds would return to the ship if they were unable to find land; if they did not return, the sailors knew that land was not far off and they would then sail in the direction the birds had flown.

Many scientists believe it was in this manner that the ancient Polynesians were able to settle the numerous tiny islands in the vast Pacific — centuries before Europeans even dared to venture into the open sea. There are many legends of such events. The early Hindu legends frequently tell about seafaring merchants who carried land—dwelling birds with them to serve as their guides to the nearest shore. And there was Noah, whose dove, on her third trip from the ark, "returned not again unto him anymore."

The Vikings, who were adventurous seamen, frequently used birds to guide them to land. This may even have been the means by which Leif Eriksson was led to the great land he called Vinland, centuries before Columbus discovered the New World.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth