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Abstract

The role of familiar visual landmarks in pigeon homing is still unsettled. If they are involved, they must be thought to be utilized in parallel with olfactory signals. In order to recognize the effectiveness of either one of the input channels separately, vision and olfaction, it is therefore necessary to interfere with both of them.

Pigeons were temporarily deprived of image vision by spectacles made of translucent white paper, producing a condition called V- as compared with the largely unimpaired condition V+. Access to olfactory signals was temporarily prohibited by charcoal filters before release and nasal anaesthesia upon release, resulting in condition O- versus unimpaired smelling of natural air in O+. Prior to the test releases, all the participating pigeons had been made familiar with the two or four test sites (and with other sites in the area) by training flights.

According to decreasing levels of initial homeward orientation and homing performance, the four combinations of treatments are to be arranged in the following order: V+O+, V+O-, V-O+, V-O-. In the last type, no trace of initial homeward orientation remained, indicating that at least one of the two input channels need be functional to enable home-related orientation. Over well known terrain, either alone seems to be more or less sufficient.

The results are indicative but not definitely conclusive. Effects of visual impairment on behavioural activities in general cannot clearly be separated from orientation-specific effects. Therefore, and because many pigeons refuse to fly in V- condition or fail to provide useful data, we stopped applying this method.