Unravelling Map and Compass Cues in Bird Navigation

Electronic versions


  • Charlotte Griffiths

    Research areas

  • PhD, pigeon homing, sun compass, clock shift, magnetic compass, landmarks, cue conflict, cue integration, columba livia, repeated releases, idiosyncrasy


Over the last seventy years, homing pigeons have been used as a model for avian navigation. Experiments utilising homing pigeons have uncovered many navigational cues used in the process of homing, as well as investigating their development, interaction, and processing in the brain. However, despite work investigating the relationships between cues, no framework of cue integration theory has been applied to the model of homing pigeons. In this thesis I aim to investigate how the theories of cue integration developed in the field of human psychology can be applied to cue integration in homing pigeon navigation and see how well these theories stand up to experimental manipulation of cues. In order to achieved this, I use modern tracking technology in the form of light-weight GPS and accelerometers to monitor navigation in field experiments, as well as a controlled arena environment where behaviour can be more closely monitored. Field experiments highlight the importance of considering individual strategies when studying homing pigeons. Where homing flights may not be maximally efficient, routes may represent individual preferences, and releases from novel locations can produce a variety of strategies, suggesting that there may be no single optimum. I find that there is evidence to support the use of a maximum likelihood estimation framework when studying the integration of cues in homing pigeons. In particular, the response of clock-shifted birds to the introduced conflict between the solar compass and other navigational cues supports cue integration. Additionally, at the location of our field experiments, the homing pigeons do not appear to be relying on the magnetic compass when the solar compass is manipulated, supporting the use of visual landmark cues in familiar area navigation. This research demonstrates that the approach used to study cue integration in humans can be applied to a non-human subject and used to ask questions about important behavioural traits. Taking this approach in future research into cue use across a range of contexts when considering the interaction between the sensory system and resulting behaviours.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date20 Jun 2022