Landscape complexity influences route-memory formation in navigating pigeons.
Mann RP., Armstrong C., Meade J., Freeman R., Biro D., Guilford T.
Observations of the flight paths of pigeons navigating from familiar locations have shown that these birds are able to learn and subsequently follow habitual routes home. It has been suggested that navigation along these routes is based on the recognition of memorized visual landmarks. Previous research has identified the effect of landmarks on flight path structure, and thus the locations of potentially salient sites. Pigeons have also been observed to be particularly attracted to strong linear features in the landscape, such as roads and rivers. However, a more general understanding of the specific characteristics of the landscape that facilitate route learning has remained out of reach. In this study, we identify landscape complexity as a key predictor of the fidelity to the habitual route, and thus conclude that pigeons form route memories most strongly in regions where the landscape complexity is neither too great nor too low. Our results imply that pigeons process their visual environment on a characteristic spatial scale while navigating and can explain the different degrees of success in reproducing route learning in different geographical locations.