, Volume 96, Issue 9, pp 1011-1025
Date: 02 Jun 2009

Neurobiology of the homing pigeon—a review

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Abstract

Homing pigeons are well known as good homers, and the knowledge of principal parameters determining their homing behaviour and the neurological basis for this have been elucidated in the last decades. Several orientation mechanisms and parameters—sun compass, earth’s magnetic field, olfactory cues, visual cues—are known to be involved in homing behaviour, whereas there are still controversial discussions about their detailed function and their importance. This paper attempts to review and summarise the present knowledge about pigeon homing by describing the known orientation mechanisms and factors, including their pros and cons. Additionally, behavioural features like motivation, experience, and track preferences are discussed. All behaviour has its origin in the brain and the neuronal basis of homing and the neuroanatomical particularities of homing pigeons are a main topic of this review. Homing pigeons have larger brains in comparison to other non-homing pigeon breeds and particularly show increased size of the hippocampus. This underlines our hypothesis that there is a relationship between hippocampus size and spatial ability. The role of the hippocampus in homing and its plasticity in response to navigational experience are discussed in support of this hypothesis.