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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

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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.

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