Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/781

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763
THE METHOD OF HOMING PIGEONS.

This arrangement was accidental at the time, but served very well a subsequent purpose. Five of the birds were "youngsters," and had never been liberated anywhere. On January 30 (1892), six months after their arrival, I let out these young birds one at a time, and with my wife to assist, and with spyglass, watch, and note-book at hand, we studied every act of each of the birds as long as we could keep them in sight. Since they all adopted precisely the same method of locating their loft, a description of one case will suffice.

A black Antwerp, let out at 4 p. m., flew to the ridge of a house eighty yards to the northwest, and sat for fifteen minutes, turning first this way, then that; looking eagerly the whole time; neck stretched out and head not still for a moment. This pigeon happened to alight on the north side of a chimney which came up through the ridge of the house. Its position was so close to the chimney that with stretching its neck as far as possible in both directions a considerable sector of the landscape must have been hidden from view. A few minutes after it alighted I recorded the remark, "If it is really in earnest about seeing everything in the neighborhood, it ought to go around to the other side of that chimney." Its first move, after fifteen minutes of looking, was a simple flit around the chimney. Here it stood for five minutes longer, looking attentively the whole time. It then flew a hundred yards south to the peak of a higher house, where six minutes more were given to observation from this new position. It next flew to a small, low house a hundred yards north. Here it remained scarcely a minute, whence it flew a hundred yards southeast to the peak of the highest house in the vicinity, where eight minutes more were devoted to observation. It now struck out to the southwest over a hill and grove and was lost to view until ten minutes past five, when it alighted on the loft. This flight may have been for the purpose of exploration and location, it probably was, in part at least; but leaving that out of the account, the bird spent thirty-five minutes doing nothing but look at its surroundings. The others consumed about the same time in the same way. In this we find the power to return laid in the painstaking visual localization of the home spot. One of the old birds, which escaped by accident, acted in a very different manner. After a few rapid circles, he flew straight for Madison and was not seen for three days; when, failing to find his old home in Worcester, he returned to the loft.

The next experiments were directed to determining the course taken by a pigeon in his return flight. The method employed is essentially the same as that used by Sir John Lubbock with the ants. The pigeons were taken to a convenient distance and liberated, and tracings of their flight were dotted oft' upon a chart of