Lateralization of magnetic compass orientation in pigeons

J R Soc Interface. 2010 Apr 6;7 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S235-40. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2009.0436.focus. Epub 2010 Jan 6.


The aim of our study was to test for lateralization of magnetic compass orientation in pigeons. Having shown that pigeons are capable of learning magnetic compass directions in an operant task, we wanted to know whether the brain hemispheres contribute differently and how the lateralization pattern relates to findings in other avian species. Birds that had learnt to locate food in an operant chamber by means of magnetic directions were tested for lateralization of magnetic compass orientation by temporarily covering one eye. Successful orientation occurred under all conditions of viewing. Thus, pigeons can perceive and process magnetic compass directions with the right eye and left brain hemisphere as well as the left eye and right brain hemisphere. However, while the right brain hemisphere tended to confuse the learned direction with its opposite (axial response), the left brain hemisphere specifically preferred the correct direction. Our findings demonstrate bilateral processing of magnetic information, but also suggest qualitative differences in how the left and the right brain deal with magnetic cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology*
  • Animal Migration / radiation effects*
  • Animals
  • Columbidae / physiology*
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / radiation effects
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Orientation / radiation effects*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Perception / radiation effects*