Mechanisms of visually mediated site recognition by the homing pigeon
Biro D., Guilford T., Dawkins MS.
The recognition of familiar areas by homing pigeons, Columba livia, is now known to depend at least in part on visual cues. Birds allowed a 5-min preview of the surrounding landscape prior to release home faster than those denied access to such cues, suggesting that recognition is visually mediated. We examined this phenomenon further by asking how memory generated through prior experience with a site is used in recognition. We provided a group of homing pigeons with training experience in which they viewed, through a single transparent vertical face of an otherwise opaque release box, an approximately 140° segment of the landscape for 5 min before release. Training previews were always given from consistent locations and orientations within a release site. Test releases that followed were used to ascertain whether subsequent site recognition necessitated previewing from this already familiar angle and distance, or whether the skill could be extended to novel, nonoverlapping lateral views of the landscape. The results suggested that homing performance was better after presentation of the view recapitulating that seen during training than after showing a novel alternative view. Pigeons may have been using a template of the arrangement of familiar landmarks around the release site as the cue for recognition. The effect, however, disappeared after repeated training, suggesting that repeated release from a site may allow for more extensive visual survey and the memorization of detailed features of the landscape or the extraction of site-specific general features that aid recognition even when a novel view is presented. © 2003 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.