Route recapitulation and route loyalty in homing pigeons: Pilotage from 25 km?
Biro D., Meade J., Guilford T.
We utilised precision Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to examine the homing paths of pigeons (Columba livia) released 20 times consecutively 25 km from the loft. By the end of the training phase, birds had developed highly stereotyped yet individually distinct routes home, with detailed recapitulation evident at each stage of the journey. Following training, birds also participated in a series of releases from novel sites at perpendicular distances of up to 3 km from their established routes. Results showed that subjects were attracted back to their established routes and recapitulated them from the point of contact. Naïve conspecifics (yoked controls) released from the same off-route sites confirmed that the experienced birds' route choices were not influenced by constraints exerted by terrain features, but that increased experience with the general area conferred a homing advantage in the form of more efficient flight tracks, even from these novel sites. Patterns in the paths taken by experienced birds to rejoin their established routes are discussed with reference to navigational mechanisms employed by homing pigeons in their familiar area. © The Royal Institute of Navigation.