, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 352–363 | Cite as

Olfactory navigation in birds

Multi-Author Review


Many bird species rely on an osmotactic mechanism to find food sources even at a considerable distance. Pigeons also rely on local odours for homeward orientation, and they integrate those perceived during passive transportation with those at the release site. It is possible to design experiments in which birds are given false olfactory information, and predictions about the effects of this can be made and tested. Pigeons build up their olfactory map by associating wind-borne odours with the directions from which they come; this was shown by experiments which aimed at preventing, limiting or altering this association. Some objections have been made to this conclusion; namely that even anosmic pigeons are sometimes homeward oriented, that they may be demotivated in flying or disturbed in their general behaviour, and that olfactory cues may be only one component of pigeo's navigational repertoire. The most recent experiments, however, confirm that pigeons derive directional information from atmospheric odouts. The lack of any knowledge about the chemical nature and distribution of the odorants which allow pigeons to navigate hinders progress in this area of research.

Key words

Bird olfaction orientation navigation homing pigeon 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Papi
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze del Comportamento animale dell'Università di PisaPisa(Italy)
  2. 2.Centro di Studio per la Faunistica ed Ecologia Tropicali del C.N.R.Firenze(Italy)

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