Pigeons

Pigeons use unexpected super sense to find home

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Imagine walking home from the grocery store or a friends’ house...

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But instead of finding the way using street signs or landmarks, you instead follow the scent of the honeysuckle flowers on your neighbor’s fence, make a turn at the aroma of a bakery 5 blocks away, and cross the street at that one alley that always smells like weed.

This is how homing pigeons find their way, too.

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Homing pigeons have such an amazing sense of direction that if you transplanted a homing pigeon hundreds of miles, it can find its nest again.

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Scientists had always suspected these pigeons' superb sense of direction depends on their olfactory senses, not eyesight, to navigate.

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But they were missing a piece of the puzzle — what odors direct these birds home? A new paper published in Scientific Reports may have the answer.

Scientists categorized the odors found near the home of a population of pigeons in the Italian region of Tuscany.

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They measured molecules called monoterpenes emitted by trees (the same molecules that create pine scent, for example).

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They also measured pungent molecule from the ocean called dimethylsulfide

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And a "chemical"-smelling molecule, trimethylbenzene, which emanated from nearby urban areas.

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The researchers also measured how wind and distance from the pigeons’ nests affected the concentration of these smelly molecules.

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They then created a smell-map, showing how the pigeons may use this sense to navigate the area.

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The research helps scientists better understand the innovative way pigeons -- and perhaps other birds -- navigate their surroundings.

Read more animal stories here.

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