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Release-site bias as a possible guide to the “map” component in pigeon homing

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Summary

In an attempt to learn more about the so-called “map” component in pigeon navigation, nine series of tests comprising 34 test releases were performed at a release site, 89 miles NNE of Ithaca, New York, where Cornell pigeons regularly depart nonrandomly but with a large clockwise deviation from the true home direction. The tests included releases of: (1) experienced pigeons new to the site, under sun; (2) pigeons with previous experience at the site, under sun; (3) experienced pigeons new to the site, under total overcast; (4) pigeons with previous experience at the site, under total overcast; (5) first-flight youngsters, under sun; (6) directionally trained pigeons; (7) pigeons from two other Ithaca-area lofts; (8) pigeons from two more distant lofts; (9) Bank Swallows from an Ithaca colony; (10) clock-shifted pigeons; (11) radio- and airplane-tracked pigeons.

The results of these tests indicate that the directional bias of the Cornell pigeons is, in general, not dependent on weather conditions or on the previous experience of the birds. Moreover, a similar bias is shown by both pigeons from other Ithacaarea lofts and Bank Swallows from Ithaca. And a similar bias from their respective home directions is shown by birds from other areas. Clock-shifted pigeons departing more directly toward home have poorer homing success than controls. It is concluded that some environmental factor basic to the avian homing process is rotated clockwise at this release site, that biologically the birds are not making an “error” but are probably reading correctly a distorted map.

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I thank Irene Brown and Timothy Larkin for their aid in all phases of this project; Donald Windsor for help in two releases; Charles Walcott and Martin Michener for aid in airplane tracking; J. Downhower for collaboration in the radio tracking and swallow releases; Andre Gobert, Howard French, A. E. Newton, and Ludwig Karl for permitting me to use their pigeons, George Yerdon, Forest Ranger, and Andy Misura, District Ranger, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, for their cooperation in making the facilities of the Castor Hill Fire Tower available to us; Monica Howland for preparing the drawings; and Bertha Blaker for typing. Research supported in part by NSF Grants GB-13046X and GB-35199X, and in part by Federal Hatch funds.

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Keeton, W.T. Release-site bias as a possible guide to the “map” component in pigeon homing. J. Comp. Physiol. 86, 1–16 (1973). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00694473

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