Having the nerve to home: trigeminal magnetoreceptor versus olfactory mediation of homing in pigeons

J Exp Biol. 2006 Aug;209(Pt 15):2888-92. doi: 10.1242/jeb.02313.


The ability of pigeons to find their way home from unfamiliar sites located up to hundreds of kilometers away is well known, but the mechanisms underlying this ability remain controversial. One proposed mechanism is based on the suggestion that pigeons are equipped with magnetoreceptors that can enable the detection of either the earth's magnetic field and/or magnetic field anomalies in the local terrain over which the pigeons fly. Recent reports have suggested that these magnetoreceptors are located in the upper beak where they are innervated by the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve. Moreover, this nerve has been shown to mediate pigeons' ability to discriminate the presence versus the absence of a magnetic field anomaly in a conditioning situation. In the present study, however, we show that an intact ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve is neither necessary nor sufficient for good homing performance from unfamiliar locations, but that an intact olfactory nerve is necessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Columbidae / physiology*
  • Earth, Planet
  • Homing Behavior / physiology*
  • Magnetics
  • Olfactory Nerve / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology*