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Abstract

After release, homing pigeons are often observed to fly around at the release site before they depart. To assess the significance of this behavior, the bearings of pigeons were taken 1,2,3 and 4 min after release and analysed with respect to the mean vanishing direction of the group (Table 1) and the individual vanishing bearing of each bird (Fig. 3, Table 2). The data come from a series of experiments involving young untrained pigeons that were shown to orient using information obtained on the outward journey, older untrained pigeons (older than 12 weeks) and trained pigeons using local information (see R. Wiltschko & Wiltschko 1985).

Analysis of behavior at the release site revealed that most groups of pigeons headed into the direction in which they finally departed almost immediately after release. Their flight directions showed a highly significant relationship to the vanishing bearing from the first min onward. Noteworthy exceptions were the young untrained control birds that seemed to fly around erratically, their bearings after one minute still unrelated to the individual vanishing bearing. Because these birds were shown to use information obtained during the outward journey, this finding indicates that flying around at the release site has nothing to do with determining the current home direction. Instead it might possibly serve to collect local release site information and match it with the home course as determined by information collected en route, thus to integrate it into the navigational ‘map’ of the spatial distribution of navigational factors.