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The Relation of Learning and Memory To the Orientation and Homing of Pigeons 1)

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1. Learning experiments, involving more than 3000 trials with homing pigeons (6 untrained, 24 previously used in field tests) were carried out. 2. The field histories are set out in detail and orientation and homing performances described by indices. 3. The apparatus described fulfills the requirements of these and a wide variety of other experiments. 4. The pigeons were required to select the one (food) pot of a circle of eight which was marked with a white "landmark". Behaviour in the arena and learning ability showed great individual variation, and are described by a series of indices. 5. Learning ability shows no positive relation to orientation or homing ability, indeed a slight negative relation to the latter is apparant. It is unlikely that exploration for previously learned landmarks plays much part in the type of navigation demonstrated in the field. 6. The ability to settle down quickly in a new situation is opposed to good homing. 7. Males learnt rather quicker, but there were no significant differences in the orientation and homing performances of the two sexes. Social position did not reflect on any of these indices. 8. Varying degrees of retention of the learnt problem were evident after intervals of one and two years. There was no relation to homing ability, but indications that memory plays a part in orientation in the absence of landmarks. 9. The pigeons could learn to go to food below, opposite or at right angles to an "artifical sun". The learning is slow, and not very accurate, suggesting that it is not part of the birds' normal behaviour. A crude experiment introducing a time factor was inconclusive.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge


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