Right hemisphere advantage in the development of route fidelity in homing pigeons
Pollonara E., Guilford T., Rossi M., Bingman VP., Gagliardo A.
© 2016 Several laboratory studies have revealed functional hemispheric lateralization in birds performing visual tasks. However, the role of functional brain asymmetries in spatial behaviour in natural settings is still poorly investigated. We studied monocularly occluded homing pigeons, Columba livia, to investigate potential differences in the hemispheric control of navigational performance. We GPS-tracked monocularly occluded and control binocular homing pigeons during seven group training releases and a final solitary release from each of two sites. The pigeons were then given one last release from each site after a phase shift of the light-dark cycle under binocular conditions, to distinguish compass-based orientation from landmark-based pilotage. Overall, pigeons homing with the left eye/right hemisphere (RH) displayed a greater fidelity to the familiar space previously experienced than pigeons homing with the right eye/left hemisphere (LH). Another difference between the two monocular groups is that LH pigeons were more likely than RH pigeons to fly with other pigeons during the group training releases. The data support the hypothesis that the left eye/right hemisphere plays a more substantial role as pigeons develop fidelity to certain routes to home from familiar release sites, an enhanced fidelity that may be supported by superior memory for familiar landmarks.