A few articles about pigeons and their abilities.
Homing pigeons are finding their way around Britain by following roads and railways, zoologists claim.
They say the birds’ natural magnetic and solar compasses are often less important than their knowledge of human transport routes.
A 10-year Oxford University study discovered some pigeons turn off at certain motorway junctions and use landmarks to remember where they are.
The scientists behind the study were “knocked sideways” by their findings.
‘Plain to see’
The pigeons’ routes were mapped to within four yards by tiny tracking devices and global positioning system technology.
Research team member Dr Tim Guilford said the results were “plain to see”.
“They don’t follow linear lines all the time and sometimes when they’re flying at 200 or 300ft above built-up areas it’s difficult to see exactly what they are following.
“But when they do follow a road, it’s so obvious.
“We followed some which flew up the Oxford bypass and even turned off at particular junctions. It’s very human-like.”
Dr Guilford said pigeons’ used their ability to navigate by the Sun when they were over unfamiliar territory.
He said they did not always fly “as the crow” – making diversions to follow roads home when there were more straightforward routes.
“That’s the exciting thing, because we knew then there was something more important to them than just saving energy.”
The team believes the birds use the technique to keep their journeys as simple as possible.
So it’s not just humans that like to take risks:
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Wednesday, 13 October 2010Pigeons almost always opted for the chance of bigger rewards, a study found
A gambling experiment has shown that pigeons like a flutter as much as humans – and that taking big risks in the hope of high rewards may be a fundamental part of our biological nature.
Scientists have shown that when faced with a choice between a series of safe, small but guaranteed rewards or a single much larger reward that is less likely to happen, pigeons will almost always choose to gamble.
The findings were a surprise to researchers, because Darwinist theory would predict that the birds would be honed by natural selection to act in a way that optimises the way they behave, rather than allowing them to take unnecessary risks that are going to leave them worse off in the long term.
However, the scientists believe that if pigeons have an innate predisposition to gamble then this could be a widespread trait across the animal kingdom – and might even explain why so many people like to gamble, even though they know they are likely to be worse off over time.
The experiment on pigeons indicates that there may be a fundamental biological reason for gambling rather than explanations based on purely human-centred preferences, such as the idea that gambling is practised because it is enjoyable and entertaining, said Thomas Zentall, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
“The entertainment value of gambling shouldn’t really play a role with pigeons, yet we have found that most pigeons will choose to gamble if they are given a choice,” said Professor Zentall. “This seems to suggest that there is some fundamental behavioural system at work. If pigeons do it, it allows us to rule out other things that have been suggested to explain why people like to gamble so much, such as its entertainment value.”
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, involved giving pigeons a choice between pecking at a coloured light that always gave them access to three food pellets, or pecking at a different coloured light that gave them two pellets but the gambling opportunity of “winning” 10 pellets 20 per cent of the time, or zero pellets 80 per cent of the time.
Overall, the best strategy for optimal foraging would be to choose the three-pellet route. But eight out of 10 pigeons tested consistently chose to gamble – even though they were worse off at the end of the experiment than if they had played safe.
“The main message is that there is a behavioural, biological mechanism at work that encourages pigeons, and possibly many other organisms, to gamble even though this was a sub-optimal strategy,” said Professor Zentall.
And the perils of man-made objects:
Which way now? Could the pigeon’s skills fall foul of new technology?
A growing number of homing pigeons are getting lost due to interference from the new “unseen enemy” of mobile phone masts, racing experts claim.
The birds’ natural instincts are being confused by radiation signals from an increasing number of transmitters, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association said.
Racers say anecdotal evidence shows poor returns over the last two years.
Pigeons are thought to find their way home using landmarks and the earth’s magnetic field.
Peter Bryant, of the RPRA, said its Stray Birds Committee had proposed attaching a GPS tracking device to pigeons to investigate the problem.
But currently the device – which would have to be strapped on like a rucksack – is too heavy for a pigeon to carry.
“It’s fine with eagles and albatross, but for the poor little pigeons it would hamper their return,” said Mr Bryant.
He said it was impossible to estimate how many pigeons were vanishing because of the transmitters.
“During the World War II, thousands of aircraft carried two pigeons in case they the plane was downed so they could send messages,” he said.
“The birds were also parachuted to the Resistance. Now they’re facing this unseen enemy in the form of mobile phone masts.”
Pigeon fancier Anne Pitkeathly, 50, from the Isle of Wight, said she was losing more and more birds.
“When I started I was told I would lose baby birds but never the big ones.
“A lot of people think it’s mobile phone masts.”
She claimed one of her pigeons had recently reacted badly after being near a mast, saying it was “stressed” and “trying to be sick”.
Previous research by German scientists in 1999 suggested that short wave radiation had an “undefined negative” impact on homing pigeons.
It was found that exposed birds took longer to get home, flew at lower levels and were reluctant to go near transmitters.
Between 50,000 to 60,000 pigeons are estimated to have gone missing last year due to problems such as bird of prey attacks and poor weather, the RPRA said.