, 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


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.


Pigeon Magnetic field Conditioning 



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.


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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

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