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The Influence of Olfactory Deprivation On Homing of Experienced and Inexperienced American Pigeons

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Given that past experiments produced different results when similar homing experiments were performed with Cornell (Ithaca NY, U.S.A.) and Pisa (Italy) pigeons, an additional series of new tests were performed using Cornell pigeons. Two pre-experimental treatments were used. One group of pigeons was maintained according to standard procedures for Cornell pigeons, the other group in a manner typical of Pisa pigeons, the main difference between the two groups was that the former were trained up to 25 km from the loft, whereas the latter were untrained but were free to fly around the loft area 2 to 6 days per week. Two series of four experimental releases were conducted at 31-34 and 57-67 km by releasing unmanipulated controls (both trained and untrained pigeons not rendered anosmic) and experimentals (both trained and untrained pigeons rendered temporarily anosmic during transport and also at the release site). When the pooled data on initial orientation are considered, the control groups show a small but significant homeward directedness, whereas the orientation of the anosmic birds is not different from random. The homing performance of anosmic birds was also significantly reduced. Thus, the results show that Cornell pigeons use olfactory cues for navigation. A residual homeward tendency found in the initial orientation of anosmic birds, though not significant, suggests the existance of an auxiliary non-olfactory mechanism whose nature is unknown, and which calls for further investigations. Both controls and experimental pigeons that had pre-test training were better orientated and homed better than their untrained counterparts. The trained groups also exhibited directional tendencies that were different from those of the untrained pigeons.

Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, U.S.A.; 2: Dipartimento di Scienze del Comportamento Animale, Via Volta 6, 56100 Pisa, Centro di Studio per la Faunistica ed Ecologia Tropicali del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, 50125 Firenze, Italy


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