Hippocampus may help homing pigeons explore | Science News

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Hippocampus may help homing pigeons explore

When researchers remove the brain regions, birds fly straighter on early parts of journey home

7:18am, July 29, 2014

FLYING ON AUTOPILOT  Like automatons, homing pigeons without hippocampi fly straight toward home early in their journey, a new study finds.

Homing pigeons can find their own cozy loft from hundreds of kilometers away. A brain structure enables exploratory jaunts during the birds’ prodigious flights home, a new study suggests.

The results, published July 16 in the European Journal of Neuroscience, bring scientists a little closer to understanding how animals and people find their way in the world.

Sights, smells and Earth's magnetic field may all help a homebound pigeon navigate. Along with other brain regions important for homing behavior, the hippocampus acts as a critical navigator, pointing out familiar landmarks near a pigeon’s home.

But the brain structure has another job earlier in the flight, ethologist Anna Gagliardo of the University of Pisa in Italy and her team found. The researchers loaded homing pigeons with GPS data loggers and released the birds from an unfamiliar place 19 to 30 kilometers

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