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The Responses of Woodpigeons (Columba Palumbus) To Pigeon Decoys in Various Postures: a Quest for a Super-Normal Alarm Stimulus

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1. It has been suggested (MURTON, 1974) that the white wing marks of the woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) could form a visual alarm signal; the species has no auditory alarm call. Experiments were conducted to investigate this possibility with the long term goal of developing an efficient scarer for this species. 2. Preference experiments were conducted over four summers. Pigeons coming to a preferred feeding site were given the opportunity of settling within one of two areas containing woodpigeon decoys (i.e. corpses) of various types. 3. Woodpigeons preferred to settle with closed-winged decoys than with open-winged decoys. This was because close-winged decoys were attractive but also because open-winged decoys were repellent. The attractive properties of closed-winged decoys were not species specific; closed-winged stock doves (Columba oenas) decoys were just as attractive. The repellent properties of the open-winged decoys resulted not from the novel posture or from the body of the decoy but solely from the outstretched pair of wings. More specifically the white wing marks were necessary for this effect; open-winged decoys with no wing marks were not repellent. 4. Decoys with modified wing marks were tested to try to obtain super-normal repellency. Doubling the area of the wing marks produced such an effect. 5. Although the exposure of the wing marks is a necessary and sufficient condition for a repellent effect, the open-winged posture is rarely seen in a living woodpigeon. The marks are usually visible as an oscillating pattern. The likely importance of the rate of oscillation of this pattern is discussed.

Affiliations: 1: (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, Worplesdon Laboratory, Tangley Place, Worplesdon, Surrey GU3 3LQ, England


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