Home > Papers from 2014 > Habitual routes in birds

Habitual routes in birds

One justification for the study of insect navigation is that the behaviours we observe are common to many animals and given the efficiency of insect navigators we might reasonably expect to see the convergent use of strategies that are well described and easy to study in insects. However for many animals, the problems of accurate tracking mean that we don’t have good information about basic navigational behaviour and so we can’t make that comparison to insect behaviour.  In recent years that has changed for the classic model system of the homing pigeon, where GPS trackers mean that accurate routes can be recorded. This has given plentiful evidence that pigeons learn, and remain faithful to, habitual routes in much the same way as insects. Guildford and Biro review this behavioural evidence and discuss possible mechanisms – in both cases the similarity to insects is stark. Indeed, mirroring a common debate from our field, their final thoughts are: “[will a well developed knowledge of a familiar area] consist of a network of independent memorised routes, or … a richer representation encoding the diffuse relationships amongst many known places that [might allow] more flexible orientation behaviour.”

Guilford, T., & Biro, D. (2014). Route following and the pigeon’s familiar area map. The Journal of experimental biology, 217(2), 169-179.

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