Homing pigeons use olfactory cues for navigation in England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Although the use of olfactory cues in pigeon navigation is well established, the generality of olfactory navigation remains uncertain because of apparent variability in results gained by different researchers in different regions. We report the results of the first experiments investigating the effect of anosmia on homing pigeons reared in a previously uninvestigated region, southern England. In series 1, experienced birds showed little effect of anosmia induced with zinc sulphate at unfamiliar sites 30 km and 39 km from the loft, but treated birds were significantly poorer than controls at homing from an unfamiliar site 66 km distant (and in pooled results). In series 2, naive (untrained) birds, both control and zinc-sulphate-treated, showed poor homing abilities and initial orientation from sites 25 km, 36 km and 39 km from the loft. Nevertheless, in pooled results, controls showed significantly better homeward orientation than anosmic birds and were significantly more likely to home on the day of release. The most likely explanation for our results is that pigeons are able to use olfactory navigation in southern England, but that for some reason the olfactory map is relatively weak.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)895-900
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume201
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1998
View graph of relations