Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 167, Issue 4, pp 545–549 | Cite as

Vibrational sensitivity of the wing of the pigeon (Columba livia) — a study using heart rate conditioning

  • Wolfgang Hörster


The vibrational sensitivity of awake pigeons was tested with the heart rate conditioning method. This method proved to be a very sensitive instrument for the behavioural measurement of the pigeon's sensitivity to mechanical stimuli.

Sine wave vibrational stimuli between 50 and 2000 Hz were applied to the 1st, 7th and 16th primary feathers of the wing. The resulting threshold curves were U- or V-shaped with 3 characteristics: (i) The frequency of best response was either 800 or 900 Hz. (ii) Within the broad frequency range of vibrational sensitivity (50 to 2000 Hz) the sensitivity was extremely high at the best frequency: threshold amplitudes lay between 0.5 and 0.09 μm. (iii) The threshold curves showed very sharp tuning at best frequency with bandwidths between 0.3 and 0.7 octaves (measured at best frequency 10fold above threshold). The functional meaning of the characteristic vibrational sensitivity of the wing for flight control is discussed; it is interpreted as an adaptation to special situations occurring during flight.

Key words

Pigeons Heart rate conditioning Vibrational sensitivity Flight control 



conditioned response


conditioned stimulus




Herbst corpuscle(s)


unconditioned stimulus


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beaugrand JP (1976) An attempt to confirm magnetic sensitivity in the pigeon (Columba livia). J Comp Physiol 110:343–355Google Scholar
  2. Bräucker R (1981) Versuche zum Unterscheidungslernen rhythmisch strukturierter akustischer Signale bei Tauben. Master's thesis, BochumGoogle Scholar
  3. Delius JD, Tarpy RM (1974) Stimulus control of heart rate by auditory frequency and auditory pattern in pigeons. J Exp Anal Behav 21:297–306Google Scholar
  4. Cohen DH, Durkovic RG (1966) Cardiac and respiratory conditioning, differentiation, and extinction in the pigeon. J Exp Anal Behav 9:681–688Google Scholar
  5. Gewecke M, Woike M (1978) Breast feathers as an air-current sense organ for the control of flight behaviour in a songbird (Carduelis spinus). Z Tierpsychol 47:293–298Google Scholar
  6. Goerdel-Leich A, Schwartzkopff J (1984) The auditory threshold of the pigeon (Columba livia) by heart-rate conditioning. Naturwissenschaften 71:98–99Google Scholar
  7. Goodwin AW, John KT, Darian-Smith I (1989) Skin profiles during siunusoidal vibration of the finger pad. Exp Brain Res 77:79–86Google Scholar
  8. Gottschaldt KM (1974) The physiological basis of tactile sensibility in the beak of geese. J Comp Physiol 95:29–47Google Scholar
  9. Hörster W (1990) Histological and electrophysiological investigations on the vibration-sensitive receptors (Herbst corpuscles) in the wing of the pigeon (Columba livia). J Comp Physiol A 166:663–673Google Scholar
  10. Hörster W, Shen J, Schwartzkopff J (1983) Electrophysiological studies on the vibrational sensitivity in the pigeon. Naturwissenschaften 70:151–152Google Scholar
  11. Keidel WD (1984) The sensory detection of vibrations. In: Dawson WW, Enoch JM (eds) Foundations of sensory science. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo, pp 465–512Google Scholar
  12. Kühn A, Müller CM, Leppelsack H-J, Schwartzkopff J (1982) Heart-rate conditioning used for determination of auditory threshold in the starling. Naturwissenschaften 69:245–246Google Scholar
  13. Nachtigall W (1985) Warum Vögel fliegen. Rasch und Röhring, Hamburg Zürich, pp 189–191Google Scholar
  14. Necker R (1983) Somatosensory system. In: Abs M (ed) Physiology and behaviour of the pigeon. Academic Press, London, pp 171–192Google Scholar
  15. Necker R (1985) Receptors in the wing of the pigeon and their possible role in bird flight. In: Nachtigall W (ed) Biona Rep 3: Vogelflug. Fischer, Stuttgart New York, pp 433–444Google Scholar
  16. Schwartzkopff J (1949) Über Sitz und Leistung von Gehör und Vibrationssinn bei Vögeln. Z Vergl Physiol 31:527–608Google Scholar
  17. Shen J (1983) A behavioral study of vibrational sensitivity in the pigeon (Columba livia). J Comp Physiol 152:251–255Google Scholar
  18. Shen J, Hörster W, Schwartzkopff J (1983) Vibrational sensitivity in the pigeon as measured by heart-rate conditioning. Naturwissenschaften 70:48–49Google Scholar
  19. Wallraff HG (1968) Über das Orientierungsvermögen von Vögeln unter natürlichen und künstlichen Sternenmustern. Dressurversuche mit Stockenten. Verh Dtsch Zool Ges Innsbruck: 347–357Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang Hörster
    • 1
  1. 1.Allgemeine PsychologieUniversität KonstanzKonstanzFederal Republic of Germany

Personalised recommendations