Let the pigeon drive the bus: pigeons can plan future routes in a room

Anim Cogn. 2012 May;15(3):379-91. doi: 10.1007/s10071-011-0463-9. Epub 2011 Oct 1.


The task of determining an optimal route to several locations is called the traveling salesperson problem (TSP). The TSP has been used recently to examine spatial cognition in humans and non-human animals. It remains unclear whether or not the decision process of animals other than non-human primates utilizes rigid rule-based heuristics, or whether non-human animals are able to flexibly 'plan' future routes/behavior based on their knowledge of multiple locations. We presented pigeons in a One-way and Round-Trip group with TSPs that included two or three destinations (feeders) in a laboratory environment. The pigeons departed a start location, traveled to each feeder once before returning to a final destination. Pigeons weighed the proximity of the next location heavily, but appeared to plan ahead multiple steps when the travel costs for inefficient behavior appeared to increase. The results provide clear and strong evidence that animals other than primates are capable of planning sophisticated travel routes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Columbidae* / physiology
  • Forecasting
  • Orientation
  • Problem Solving*
  • Space Perception