Naturwissenschaften

, Volume 94, Issue 10, pp 813–819 | Cite as

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

  • Peter Thalau
  • Elke Holtkamp-Rötzler
  • Gerta Fleissner
  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
Original Paper

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Pigeon Magnetic field Conditioning 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Our work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant to W.W.). We thank Jörg Oehlmann for help with the statistical analysis, Helmut Prior and Christiane Wilzeck for their critical comments and four anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. The experiments were performed in accordance with the rules and regulation of animal welfare in Germany.

References

  1. Beason RC, Brennon WJ (1986) Natural and induced magnetization in the bobolink (Dolichonyx orycivorus). Ethology 91:75–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beason RC, Nichols JE (1984) Magnetic orientation and magnetically sensitive material in a transequatorial migratory bird. Nature 309:151–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beason RC, Semm P (1996) Does the avian ophthalmic nerve carry magnetic navigational information? J Exp Biol 199:1241–1244PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Beason RC, Wiltschko R, Wiltschko W (1997) Pigeon homing: effects of magnetic pulses on initial orientation. Auk 114:405–415Google Scholar
  5. Bookman MA (1977) Sensitivity of the homing pigeon to an earth-strength magnetic field. Nature 267:340–342PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davila AF, Fleissner G, Winklhofer M, Petersen N (2003) A new model for a magnetoreceptor in homing pigeons based on interacting clusters of superparamagnetic magnetite. Phys Chem Earth 28:647–652Google Scholar
  7. Edmonds DT (1996) A sensitive optically detected magnetic compass for animals. Proc R Soc Lond B 263:295–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fleissner G, Holtkamp-Rötzler E, Hanzlik M, Winklhofer M, Fleissner G, Petersen N, Wiltschko W (2003) Ultrastructural analysis of a putative magnetoreceptor in the beak of homing pigeons. J Comp Neurol 458:350–360PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fleissner G, Stahl B, Thalau P, Falkenberg G, Fleissner G (2007) A novel concept of Fe-mineral based magnetoreception: new histological and physiochemical data from the upper beak of homing pigeons. Naturwissenschaften (in press). doi:  10.1007/s00114-007-0236-0
  10. Freire R, Munro UH, Rogers LJ, Wiltschko R, Wiltschko W (2005) Chickens orient using a magnetic compass. Curr Biol 15:R620–R621PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gray E, Spetch ML, Kelly DM, Nguyen A (2004) Searching in the center: pigeons (Columba livia) encode relative distance from walls of an enclosure. J Comp Psychol 118:113–117PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hanzlik M, Heunemann C, Holtkamp-Rötzler E, Winklhofer M, Petersen N, Fleissner G (2001) Superparamagnetic magnetite in the upper beak tissue of homing pigeons. BioMetals 13:325–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kirschvink JL, Gould JL (1981) Biogenic magnetite as a basis for magnetic field detection in animals. Biosystems 13:181–201PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kirschvink JL, Walker MM (1986) Biogenic magnetite in higher organisms and the current status of the hypothesis of ferrimagnetic magnetoreception. In: Maret G, Boccara N, Kiepenheuer J (eds) Biophysical effects of steady magnetic fields. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 180–188Google Scholar
  15. Mora C, Davison M, Wild JM, Walker MM (2004) Magnetoreception and its trigeminal mediation in the homing pigeon. Nature 432:508–511PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Munro U, Munro JA, Phillips JB, Wiltschko R, Wiltschko W (1997) Evidence for a magnetite-based navigational ‘map’ in birds. Naturwissenschaften 84:26–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Reille A (1968) Essai de mise en évidence d’une sensibilité du pigeon au champ magnétique à l’aide d’une conditionnement nociceptif. J Physiol (Paris) 60:85–92Google Scholar
  18. Semm P, Beason RC (1990) Responses to small magnetic variations by the trigeminal system of the bobolink. Brain Res Bull 25:740–753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Shcherbakov VP, Winklhofer M (1999) The osmotic magnetometer: a new model for magnetite-based magnetoreceptors in animals. Eur Biophys J 28:380–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Stahl B, Fleissner G, Falkenberg G, Fleissner G (2006) Magnetite nanoparticles alone are not able to explain iron mineral-based magnetoreception in homing pigeons. In: Kyriakopoulos A, Michalke B Graebert A, Behne D (eds) Proceedings of the 4th Fall Conference on metalloproteins and metalloidproteins. Herbert Utz Verlag, München, pp 63–68Google Scholar
  21. Tommasi L, Vallortigara G (2000) Searching for the center: spatial cognition in the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Processes 26:477–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tommasi L, Vallortigara G (2004) Hemispheric processing of landmark and geometric information in male and female domestic chicks (Gallus gallus). Behav Brain Res 155:85–96PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tommasi L, Vallortigara G, Zanforlin M (1997) Young chickens learn to localize the center of a spatial environment. J Comp Physiol A 180:567–572PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Williams MN, Wild JM (2001) Trigeminally innervated iron containing structures in the beak of homing pigeons and other birds. Brain Res 889:243–246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wiltschko R, Wiltschko W (1995) Magnetic orientation in animals. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, 203–215Google Scholar
  26. Wiltschko R, Wiltschko W (1996) Magnetoreception: why is conditioning so seldom successful? Naturwissenschaften 83:241–247PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Wiltschko W, Wiltschko R (2005) Magnetic orientation and magnetoreception in birds and other animals. J Comp Physiol A 191:675–693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Winklhofer M, Holtkamp-Rötzler E, Hanzlik M, Fleissner G, Petersen N, (2001) Clusters of superpara-magnetic magnetite particles in the upper-beak skin of homing pigeons: evidence of a magnetoreceptor? Eur J Mineral 13:659–669CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Yorke ED (1979) A possible magnetic transducer in birds. J Theor Biol 77:101–105PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Thalau
    • 1
  • Elke Holtkamp-Rötzler
    • 1
  • Gerta Fleissner
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Wiltschko
    • 1
  1. 1.Fachbereich BiowissenschaftenJ.W.Goethe-Universität FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany

Personalised recommendations