Olfaction and the homing ability of pigeons raised in a tropical area in Brazil

Silvano Benvenuti, Ronald Ranvaud
Journal of Experimental Zoology. Part A, Comparative Experimental Biology 2004 December 1, 301 (12): 961-7
Several workers have investigated the effect of anosmia on pigeon navigation in different geographical locations because it has been suggested that homing behavior is based on different cues, such as olfactory cues, the Earth's magnetic field or infrasound, and that in the absence of one cue another would be used. In this situation, no cue is universally indispensable, including olfactory ones. In order to extend such observations to a novel biome, we observed the behaviour of 192 young inexperienced birds raised in southeastern Brazil, a tropical area where olfactory tests had never been run before. The birds were released from eight symmetrically distributed sites 17 to 44 km from the loft. Half of these birds (experimentals) had been made temporarily anosmic by washing their olfactory mucosae with 4% solution of ZnSO4 the day before release, while controls were treated with Ringer solution. The results of release tests showed that anosmia totally impaired the navigational performance of experimental birds, which were unable to home from sites at relatively short distances from home (34-44 km) and whose pooled initial bearings produced a (negative) homeward component not significantly different from 0. Homing performance of controls was significantly better, and their pooled vanishing bearings had a significant homeward component, in spite of much scatter in individual releases. We conclude that pigeon homing in the study area depends on olfactory information, even though local environmental conditions in the interior of the State of Sao Paulo, as in several other parts of the world, do not appear to be as favorable as Italy for the development of efficient olfactory navigation.

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