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Abstract

The importance of visual landmarks during homing in pigeons (Columba livia) remains a contentious issue. Three experiments which explore the role of visual landmarks at release sites are reported here. The effects of releasing homing pigeons after a 5-minute period in either a clear or an opaque sided release box were investigated. In the clear sided box pigeons were able to observe local surroundings at a release site, but this view was obstructed in the opaque sided box. In experiment 1 pigeons were released from familiar locations close to home (between 2 and 5.6 km): being unable to view landmarks prior to release significantly slowed homing speeds. In experiment 2 pigeons were released at familiar locations further from home (between 8.4 and 10 km): being unable to view landmarks prior to release did not significantly affect homing speeds. In experiment 3 pigeons were trained to home from distant release sites but were tested at closer, unfamiliar sites located on the likely homing routes used by the pigeons in training. No significant difference in homing speeds were observed when pigeons were released from either the clear or opaque sided box. The significance of these results for understanding the role of visual landmarks within a pigeon's familiar area is discussed.