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Title: The familiar area orientation mechanisms of the homing pigeon
Author: Armstrong, Chris
ISNI:       0000 0004 2727 5143
Awarding Body: Oxford University
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2010
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The nature of the orientation mechanisms employed in the homing pigeon's familiar area are less well understood than those used to home from unfamiliar locations. This is due to the redundancy in navigational information sources available in the familiar range. This thesis describes a series of experiments designed to test a number of hypotheses concerning the relationships between learned landscape cues, solar cues and memory functions, in the control of navigation in the familiar area. Habitual route recapitulation behaviour was observed and compared from 2 sites which differed in their overall landscape complexity. The heterogeneity of the landscape complicated the analysis although at an individual and local level a relationship between complexity and fidelity was detected. The limits of spatial memory were tested in 2 ways. No interference was detected in pigeons forced to learn 2 routes at the same time and a 6 month delay in training was found to have only a small impact of habitual route fidelity. The consequences for the pigeon's familiar area map use are discussed. A rare opportunity was taken to test habitual route recapitulation performance over a snow covered landscape. Although differences in atmospheric conditions complicated the analysis, there is a suggestion that large scale landscape manipulations can negatively impact familiar area orientation behaviour. 3 pilot analyses designed as tools for the examination of familiar are trajectory data sets are described. A method for identifying the switch from circling to homing behaviour reveals that circling flight, although not home oriented, tends to be located in the direction of home suggesting that pigeons are aware of their general location relative to the loft prior to departure. A habitual route waypoint identification mechanism based on the convergence of neighbouring trajectories is described and is used to compare waypoints to the underlying landscape features. A method for identifying flight goals is described and tested in the final few seconds of flight as the subject approaches the loft. Habitual route recapitulation behaviour is identified in pigeons born, housed, raised and tested in Italy by a different research group. Although certain differences in behaviour are detected, the result confirms that route recapitulation is not caused by an unknown artefact of the particular settings of the Oxford homing pigeon colony. A number of experiments are described which analyse the impact of the solar compass in situations of extremely high familiarity. The resulting behaviour can not be reconciled with the current map and compass theory of navigation. A novel theory is proposed in which the position of the sun is processed alongside map features.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available