Homing pigeons develop local route stereotypy.
Meade J., Biro D., Guilford T.
The mechanisms used by homing pigeons (Columba livia) to navigate homeward from distant sites have been well studied, yet the mechanisms underlying navigation within, and mapping of, the local familiar area have been largely neglected. In the local area pigeons pote ntially have access to a powerful navigational aid--a memorized landscape map. Current opinion suggests that landmarks are used only to recognize a familiar start position and that the goalward route is then achieved solely using compass orientation. We used high-resolution global positioning system (GPS) loggers to track homing pigeons as they became progressively familiar with a local homing task. Here, we demonstrate that birds develop highly stereotyped yet individually distinctive routes over the landscape, which remain substantially inefficient. Precise aerial route recapitulation implies close control by localized geocentric cues. Magnetic cues are unlikely to have been used, since recapitulation remains despite magnetic disruption treatment, and olfactory cues would have been positionally unstable under the variable wind conditions, making visual landmarks the most likely cues used.