Finding home: the final step of the pigeons' homing process studied with a GPS data logger

Anna Gagliardo, Paolo Ioalè, Maria Savini, Hans-Peter Lipp, Giacomo Dell'Omo
Journal of Experimental Biology 2007, 210: 1132-8
Experiments have shown that homing pigeons are able to develop navigational abilities even if reared and kept confined in an aviary, provided that they are exposed to natural winds. These and other experiments performed on inexperienced birds have shown that previous homing experiences are not necessary to determine the direction of displacement. While the cues used in the map process for orienting at the release site have been extensively investigated, the final step of the homing process has received little attention by researchers. Although there is general agreement on the relevance of visual cues in navigation within the home area, there is a lack of clear evidence. In order to investigate the final step of the homing process, we released pigeons raised under confined conditions and others that had been allowed to fly freely around the loft and compared their flight paths recorded with a Global-Positioning-System logger. Our data show that a limited view of the home area impairs the pigeons' ability to relocate the loft at their first homing flight, suggesting that the final step of the homing process is mediated via recognition of familiar visual landmarks in the home area.

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