Sun-compass orientation in homing pigeons: compensation for different rates of change in azimuth?
Journal of Experimental Biology
Birds using their sun compass must compensate for the apparent movement of the sun with the help of their internal clock. The movement of the sun is not uniform, being much faster around noon than near sunrise and sunset. If the sun-compass mechanisms are not adjusted to these variations, considerable errors might arise. To learn whether birds are able to take the different rates of sun azimuth change into account, we subjected homing pigeons to a 4 h fast clock-shift. The experiments were
... periments were performed near Auckland, New Zealand, at a latitude of 37 degrees S, where the expected deflections for a 4 h shift in summer vary from less than 40 degrees to more than 120 degrees, depending on time of day. One group of birds was released just after sunrise or during the corresponding period in the afternoon when the expected deflections were minimal, the other group during late morning when they were maximal. The different sizes of the observed deflections - between 26 degrees and 51 degrees in the first group, and between 107 degrees and 153 degrees in the second group - clearly show that the birds' compensation mechanisms are closely tuned to the varying rates of change in sun azimuth. The results suggest that pigeons have a rather precise internal representation of the sun curve, which makes the avian sun compass a highly accurate mechanism of direction finding.