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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/783

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THE METHOD OF HOMING PIGEONS.

in preparation for the following experiments for nearly four months.

On May 29th six pigeons were caught at random and carried in a cage, the top and sides of which were made of open-mesh wire netting to allow free vision, to the top of a hill about half a mile southeast of "home." The birds were liberated singly, and the course flown by each in returning to loft may be seen by a glance at Fig. 1. At the same time, six other birds, also taken without selection, were carried to the same place in a basket closely wrapped in a heavy black shawl. Tracings of their homeward flights are reproduced in Fig. 2.

By comparing the two figures may be seen the influence of vision upon directness of return flight. In Fig. 1, five of the birds are seen to start toward home at once; one, a young bird out of the loft for the first time, flies in the wrong direction a short distance, turns sharply about, and alights upon the first house on the line toward home. Three pigeons fly home without preliminary circling. Fig. 2 shows not a single direct course. Two begin circling in the wrong direction. One of these persists in his false bent to the extent of searching over the whole city of Madison. In the case of Fig. 1, the birds, most of them, see home very soon and fly directly to it. Fig. 2 shows more of the method which a pigeon adopts in covering unknown territory.

By comparing successive tracings of the same bird, may be seen the effect of education—i. e., improvement in good birds, failure to improve in poor ones. The first is well shown in Fig. 3, the three different lines representing three successive flights of pigeon No. 2. As this is a typical case, let us follow its development a moment. No. 2 has been carried from the loft in a covered basket to the hill half a mile distant. Not having any idea as to which direction he has been taken, he naturally starts out the wrong way. His first thought, if I may so speak, is to look around for some familiar object. So at a he turns about and is occupied with looking over the landscape, while he describes a number of semicircles back and forth around the place of starting. He evidently sees nothing until his widening circles bring him over a group of buildings around a farmhouse at b. Among these is a red barn, and close to the loft is a red house. This looks quite like home, and he swoops down toward it. On closer examination, however, he fails to discover the familiar barn, the pigeonholes, and alighting board. After making four circles low down over and among these buildings, he rises high in the air again to take another look. All to the south and west are lake and marsh and woods, with but few farmhouses visible. Toward the north he sees a cluster of houses—South Madison. He looks them over in the same way. From c he catches sight of another