The Effects of Zinc Sulphate Anosmia on Homing Pigeons, Columba livia, in a Homing and a Non-homing Experiment


Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43404, USA. E-mail:


There is debate over whether homing pigeons, Columba livia, use olfactory information as part of their navigational map. Antagonists of the theory argue that homing deficits noted in anosmic pigeons may be due to a non-specific impairment in general information processing. In Experiment I, we present data from a modest investigation describing the typical navigational deficits that occur following zinc sulphate-mediated anosmia. Our results are consistent with previous experiments that noted impairments in homing performance from unfamiliar locations of anosmic pigeons. Experiment II is a critical experiment that involved a spatial working memory paradigm; this paradigm consisted of testing zinc sulphate-treated birds in a forced-choice alternation task in a T-maze. This experiment allowed us to determine whether anosmic pigeons were impaired in memory performance, a robust measure of general information processing. There were no differences between the last day of training and a subsequent-test day when pigeons received an intranasal injection of zinc sulphate. This experiment suggests that zinc sulphate anosmia does not impair general information processing, supporting the hypothesis that homing pigeons use olfactory cues when homing from unfamiliar locations.