Building from the premise that hippocampal cognitive function has been molded by natural selection under natural environmental conditions, it is argued that traditional laboratory studies likely do not reveal the richness and complexity of hippocampal function. Research on the role of the hippocampal formation in the navigational behavior of homing pigeons is offered as an example to illustrate the advantages of using an ecological approach to understand hippocampal function. It is further proposed that dissimilarities in hippocampal anatomy, physiology, and neurochemistry found between species reflect species differences in the range of functions served by the hippocampal formation, as well as possibly the molecular and cellular mechanisms that support such functions. These differences notwithstanding, it is suggested that, from an evolutionary perspective, the primary function of the hippocampal formation is a role in some aspect of spatial cognition. Dissimilarities in hippocampal structure and function among extant species are viewed as resulting from differences in evolutionary selective pressure and evolutionary history.