Not just passengers: pigeons, Columba livia, can learn homing routes while flying with a more experienced conspecific.
Pettit B., Flack A., Freeman R., Guilford T., Biro D.
For animals that travel in groups, the directional choices of conspecifics are potentially a rich source of information for spatial learning. In this study, we investigate how the opportunity to follow a locally experienced demonstrator affects route learning by pigeons over repeated homing flights. This test of social influences on navigation takes advantage of the individually distinctive routes that pigeons establish when trained alone. We found that pigeons learn routes just as effectively while flying with a partner as control pigeons do while flying alone. However, rather than learning the exact route of the demonstrator, the paired routes shifted over repeated flights, which suggests that the birds with less local experience also took an active role in the navigational task. The efficiency of the original routes was a key factor in how far they shifted, with less efficient routes undergoing the greatest changes. In this context, inefficient routes are unlikely to be maintained through repeated rounds of social transmission, and instead more efficient routes are achieved because of the interaction between social learning and information pooling.