Experimental findings obtained in recent years make it possible to recognize and distinguish the most relevant components determining homing flights of displaced pigeons. Conclusions deduced from these experiments, more or less compelling or tentative, are presented in the form of seven theses, supplemented by several subtheses along with reference to empirical data. The principal theses are as follows. (1) Passively displaced pigeons find the way home by using location-dependent signals and not by path integration based on recording of motion. Pigeons are able to home, even from unfamiliar areas, without access to potentially useful information during transport to the release site. (2) Home-related orientation of pigeons in unfamiliar areas requires positional information acquired olfactorily from atmospheric trace gases. Empirically deduced details of olfactory navigation are enumerated (connection with winds and the sun, inaccuracy, spatial range, time course of sampling and memorizing spatial information, etc.). The critical gap in our knowledge, i.e. the nature and spatio-temporal distribution of the substances involved, is provisionally filled by speculation. (3) In familiar areas, known from previous flights, the visual landscape is used additionally to find the way home. (4) Initial orientation of pigeons does not exclusively reflect home-related navigation but includes components independent of the position with respect to home. Observed bearings are co-determined by a general preference for a certain compass direction and by distracting features of the nearby landscape. (5) Proportions among components controlling initial orientation according to theses 2-4 are highly variable depending on local, temporal and experimental conditions and on the life histories of the pigeons. This complexity greatly restricts recognition of the navigationally relevant components of behaviour at a given release site. (6) Sensory inputs, being neither olfactory nor visual, do not substantially contribute to determining the current position with respect to home. This thesis need not be definitive, but at present no contradicting evidence is available. (7) Pigeon homing is a model case of bird homing in general. Experiments with other species support this thesis. So far, there is no reason to assume that wild birds apply mechanisms fundamentally different from those of pigeons to find the way home.

This content is only available via PDF.