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Secret of homing pigeons revealed

When they have flown a journey more than once, carrier pigeons establish a habitual route, scientists said.
When they have flown a journey more than once, carrier pigeons establish a habitual route, scientists said.

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Homing pigeons

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- The secret of carrier pigeons' uncanny ability to find their way home has been discovered by British scientists: The feathered navigators follow the roads just like we do.

Researchers at Oxford University spent 10 years studying homing pigeons using Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and were stunned to find the birds often don't navigate by taking bearing from the sun.

Instead they fly along motorways, turn at junctions and even go around roundabouts, adding miles to their journeys, British newspapers reported.

"It really has knocked our research team sideways," Professor Tim Guilford said in the Daily Telegraph.

"It is striking to see the pigeons fly straight down the A34 Oxford bypass, and then sharply curve off at the traffic lights before curving off again at the roundabout," he said.

Guilford said pigeons use their own navigational system when doing long-distance trips or when a bird does a journey for the first time.

But when they have flown a journey more than once they home in on an habitual route home.

"In short it looks like it is mentally easier for a bird to fly down a road...they are just making their journey as simple as possible."

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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