Waiting time before release increases the motivation to home in homing pigeons (Columba livia)

Gaia Dell'Ariccia, David Costantini, Giacomo Dell'Omo, Hans-Peter Lipp
Journal of Experimental Biology 2009, 212: 3361-4
When performing homing experiments with individual releases, pigeons have to wait in a transport box for a certain amount of time before being released and hence perceive the departure of companions. Quite often, the last pigeons disappear straightforward from the release site. The question is whether this reflects improved orientation because of prolonged exposure to the release place or whether it reflects increased homing motivation. By releasing pigeons from a familiar site, we investigated the effects of the time spent at the release site on homing performance, recording pigeons' flights with GPS loggers. Our results show that, despite individual peculiarities of flight patterns, the waiting time at release site had a positive effect on homing speed and time, and reduced the time spent circling around the release point. However, the overall path efficiency as derived from GPS tracking was not influenced. These results suggest that a longer waiting time before release improves homing performance and this is related not only to increased navigational abilities but also to increased homing motivation.

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