, Volume 94, Issue 10, pp 813-819
Date: 11 May 2007

Homing pigeons (Columba livia f. domestica) can use magnetic cues for locating food

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An experimental group of homing pigeons (Columba livia f. domestica) learned to associate food with a magnetic anomaly produced by bar magnets that were fixed to the bowl in which they received their daily food ration in their home loft; the control group lacked this experience. Both groups were trained to search for two hidden food depots in a rectangular sand-filled arena without obvious visual cues; for the experimental birds, these depots were also marked with three 1.15 × 106 μT bar magnets. During the tests, there were two food depots, one marked with the magnets, the other unmarked; their position within the arena was changed from test to test. The experimental birds searched within 10 cm of the magnetically marked depot in 49% of the test sessions, whereas the control birds searched there in only 11% of the sessions. Both groups searched near the control depot in 11 and 13% of the sessions, respectively. The significant preference of the magnetically marked food depot by the experimental birds shows that homing pigeons cannot only detect a magnetic anomaly but can also use it as a cue for locating hidden food in an open arena.