Cue Salience Influences the Use of Height Cues in Reorientation in Pigeons (Columba livia)

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Although orienting ability has been examined with numerous types of cues, most research has focused only on cues from the horizontal plane. The current study investigated pigeons’ use of wall height, a vertical cue, in an open-field task and compared it with their use of horizontal cues. Pigeons were trained to locate food in 2 diagonal corners of a rectangular enclosure with 2 opposite high walls as height cues. Before each trial, pigeons were rotated to disorient them. In training, pigeons could use either the horizontal cues from the rectangular enclosure or the height information from the walls to locate the food. In testing, the apparatus was modified to provide (a) horizontal cues only, (b) height cues only, and (c) both height and horizontal cues in conflict. In Experiment 1 the lower and high walls, respectively, were 40 and 80 cm, whereas in Experiment 2 they were made more perceptually salient by shortening them to 20 and 40 cm. Pigeons accurately located the goal corners with horizontal cues alone in both experiments, but they searched accurately with height cues alone only in Experiment 2. When the height cues conflicted with horizontal cues, pigeons preferred the horizontal cues over the height cues in Experiment 1 but not in Experiment 2, suggesting that perceptual salience influences the relative weighting of cues.

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