Learning of magnetic compass directions in pigeons
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- Wilzeck, C., Wiltschko, W., Güntürkün, O. et al. Anim Cogn (2010) 13: 443. doi:10.1007/s10071-009-0294-0
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A proof of magnetic compass learning by pigeons under laboratory conditions has been attempted for decades, but all experiments have failed so far. The aim of the present study was to test whether pigeons can learn magnetic compass directions in an operant chamber if magnetic cues are presented as true spatial cues. Experimental sessions were carried out in the local geomagnetic field and in magnetic fields with matched total intensity and inclination, but different directions generated with Helmholtz-coils. Birds demonstrated successful learning with a performance level comparable to that in learning studies with magnetic anomalies. In addition, we compared the data from magnetic learning in the laboratory with performance from homing experiments in the field. The birds that were more successful in the learning experiment had vanishing bearings farther away from the home direction than the group mean at unfamiliar, but not at familiar sites. This might suggest that better learners explore unknown locations in a different way. Our findings represent the first evidence for operant magnetic compass learning in pigeons and also provide a link between behavioural data from the field and the laboratory.