Homing in pelagic birds: a pilot experiment with white-chinned petrels released in the open sea

Behav Processes. 2003 Feb 28;61(1-2):95-100. doi: 10.1016/s0376-6357(02)00168-7.


During the breeding period white-chinned petrels (Procellaria aequinoctialis) repeatedly perform long foraging trips in the open ocean from their breeding island, and are able to home with an astonishing precision. The orientation mechanisms involved are not yet known. By analogy with those used by desert ants moving in a similarly "featureless" environment, one can hypothesise that petrels may home using path-integration. We displaced 11 white-chinned petrels 725-785km from their burrows to the open sea, preventing them from using visual and magnetic route-based information. Three birds carried satellite transmitters. Our results showed that they can home rather efficiently in such conditions.